MisterWives – “Our Own House”

Grade: A-

Key Tracks: “Reflections,” “Coffins,” “No Need For Dreaming”

Let’s get this out of the way: there’s nothing inherently special about MisterWives. They’re not one of the more unique indie bands you’re going to hear. But, it’s their sweetness and earnest desire to just make music and bank off each other that makes them great. They’ve only existed for a short while, but on their full-length debut, they sound like a full-fledged band that’s had years of practice. The band’s pretty, vocal-heavy folk-indie is strong at every point.

I was lucky enough to catch MisterWives live at what had to have been one of their earliest shows. They were opening for another great band called Pyyramids in Manhattan, and I remember seeing enough of them to think that they seemed like a down-to-Earth, groovy group that was playing what they wanted to. On “Our Own House,” they’ve expanded their sound, but they haven’t lost much of the fun qualities that they had in that tiny Manhattan bar.

Three of the first five songs on this album have horns. Openers “Our Own House” and “Not Your Way,” and fifth track “Best I Can Do.” It’s worth noting, because the band has an interesting strategy, where they come out with the bang of some extra musicians, before settling into who they are themselves. They bust out with a groove, with a funky grip that hooks you in for a few tracks before you things have calmed and you’re listening to just a few people.

The best tracks on the album are the ones where MisterWives work as a collective – some songs are too heavy on vocals, but some are collective efforts. Two of the album’s better songs, “No Need For Dreaming,” and “Imagination Infatuation,” are collaborative efforts. “Hurricane” is even more guitar-heavy. But even on the tracks on that aren’t as cohesive, Mandy Lee Duffy’s vocals are strong throughout. She’s the anchor of the band; she formed it, she leads it, and her sweet but booming voice propels the band forward. The band’s best song, “Reflections,” is centered almost entirely around her vocals.

“Reflections” is one of five songs on the album that already existed, on last year’s “Reflections” EP. But it’s okay, because they’re worked into the twining of the album organically. They’re just reprints of the older versions, but they fit fine within the album’s frame.

On first listen, MisterWives might seem like another folksy-indie throwaway band, but there’s a lot of substance to their music. It’s grasping, and catchy, and a ton of fun. There isn’t a dull moment on their debut. What MisterWives really is, is five talented musicians sitting in a studio, simply creating whatever they want. And as far as the (pseudo-)indie-folk genre goes, MisterWives are already one of the better bands in the game.

if you like this, try: Company of Thieves. Genevieve Schatz’s voice was sweet but dominant, like Duffy’s, and the band also had a collaborative indie sound. “Oscar Wilde” is one of my permanent favorite songs.

-Andrew McNally

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MisterWives – “Reflections”

(Photo Credit: fistintheair)

Grade: A-

I had to choose wisely on which review should start off 2014. I couldn’t start with just anything. For a while, I’ve had a note in my phone that just says “MisterWives.” I’ll come across it occasionally and sometimes I can’t even remember what it means. But I had the pleasure of seeing MisterWives, kind of by chance. A Manhattan Fitz & the Tantrums concert was being reviewed for a paper I was writing for, and the promoter threw in tickets to see the band Pyyramids. It was a 21+ show, so I had to go in place of the usual reviewer. So it was like a bonus concert to a bonus concert. I found them inherently intriguing in a way most opening bands can only strive to be.

MisterWives, and their new EP “Reflections,” are in the same realm as Grouplove. Their music is soulful and fun, combining many influences at once. The result is a very complex sound made out of relatively easy parts. Each of the six tracks on “Reflections” is centered around easy rhythms on conventional instruments. But while one song sounds soulful, the next is more electro, and when one is vocal heavy, the next is focused on guitar. It’s a surprising balance for an EP of only six songs. They maintain a relaxed, fun and folksy sound throughout the balance.

The standout of the EP is the title track, which relies on some strong vocals. It has a resounding pop vocal harmony over a slightly funky guitar, and it sounds primed for crossover radio. Each track on the album, in it’s own way, sounds ready for radio – it’s telling that all six songs range from 3:06-3:33. But they stand out enough to make for a promising debut. I’m a little ashamed I didn’t get to see their full set now, so I’d like to highly encourage you to seek out MisterWives yourselves. “Reflections” is a fun and carefree release with some genuinely original songwriting.

If you like this, try: Grouplove, whose song “Shark Attack” was #20 on my 2013 list. (Incidentally, Pyyramids also made the list, with “Don’t Go” at #28. That was a productive concert for me.)

-By Andrew McNally

Arc & Stones – “Arc & Stones”

(Photo Credit: Arc & Stones Bandcamp)

Grade: B-

The debut EP from New York based band Arc & Stones doesn’t accomplish anything revolutionary, nor is it an extraordinary album. But each of the five tracks has just enough diversity, and just enough energy, to get stuck in your head. There is a catchy element to their music, and they use a combination of genres to flesh out what would otherwise be boring, rock songs. The band meshes rock, folk and soulful sounds to make five honest songs that sound kind of generic but have depth to them.

Opening track “Silence” spins the 90’s Black Crowes-inspired sound on its head by subtly building up sound and getting a little heavier than it seems. “Say Goodbye” greatly resembles some of the more radio-friendly 90’s rock bands like Collective Soul, building up from an acoustic rhythm to a big, fuzzy guitar ending. “Let Me Down” follows a piano and acoustic rhythm similar to the one that starts off “Say Goodbye,” largely staying in it before a bigger, group chorus at the end. “She’s Mine” is a louder track, bolstered by a bluesy guitar rhythm that adds some needed speed to the EP. Final track “Rise” is also centered an electric guitar rhythm, a catchier one. Every track is reminiscent of the folksy mid-90’s radio rock.

The band is consisted of Ben Cramer on lead guitar, Dan Pellarin on vocals and rhythm guitar, Joey Doino on drums and Eddy Bays on bass. Musically, they center more on a collective and friendly sound, and the unfortunate downside is that there isn’t much to speak of originality wise. The band does blend genres successfully, adding some emotion and soul to their more subdued moments, and it is more fine-tuned than most other bands of this nature. Pellarin’s lyrics, as evidenced by the song titles, aren’t anything that we haven’t heard already, but his voice is strong. Pellarin’s voice is soothing and honest, and he really adds the soul to the album, a needed diversity.

“Arc & Stones” isn’t overly memorable, but it is a promising debut release. The band might find their niche and gain a following. There are enough elements of rock, blues, folk and soul to keep the songs in your head for at least a little while afterwards. Part honest displays, part 90’s throwback, “Arc & Stones” might be the beginnings of a really good band.

If you like this, try: “Pyyramids” by Pyyramids (2013). Another decent debut from a band that shows a lot of potential.

-By Andrew McNally