by Morgan Greenwood (@totemmotet)
Kansas City-based band Mess, on their debut album Learning How to Talk, prove that they are anything but. This record is eight tightly constructed songs that suffer no detours or distractions. Only two songs stretch past four minutes long and—beyond that—the two outer bookend songs both hover around the two minute mark. These songs are often composed of few raw materials but intent on exploring every nook and cranny of the chord progression, guitar lick, or moment of silence. Each track tends to grow in a hairpin shape much like the post-rock of yesteryear, starting with a little scene-setting and then slowly introducing elements or variation as they go. This will lead to some very rousing climaxes (see lead single “Cave,” “Drown,” or the penultimate “Whole Again”) that don’t so much explode but rather wash over you like a pleasant fever.
At the forefront is Allison Gliesman’s crystalline voice and plaintive lyricism. The occasional line—like “my eyes are sulking dogs at the foot of your mouth” or “it’s a place familiar / like the faces cut out of all the pictures”—will jump out at you from an unsuspecting place, delivered in an entirely unassuming, restrained way. But because the vocal performance does not draw attention to itself in these places the especially emotive lines have the room to really shine and breathe—a mark of very mature songwriting.
There are a few other touches that give the album some noteworthy ornamentation. At the end of the first track “Becoming,” a very lo-fi and quiet version of the intro drums to “Dead Space” sneak in, the beat only coming up to full volume when the song itself starts. Also on “Dead Space” during the lines “It’s dead space – our bodies hollowed out” everything except the voice stops on the words “dead space,” a text painting technique used to good effect.
This record is all about setting up small moments like that here and there—much like the way you might remember a single glance out the window on a spring morning, the way a piece of paper lifts gently in a breeze.