- Kim Sipus (vocals)
- Paul Dexter (guitars, bass, keyboards)
- Steve Lanatation (drums)
- Shannon Woolner (vocals)
Top » Bands and Artists » M » Mayfair Laundry
- Discography (2)
|New and Improved||1999|
Like Mustard and Peanut Butter: Some Combos Don't Gel
Like Mustard and Peanut Butter: Some Combos Just Don't Gel
A Review of Mayfair Laundry: Scrub
Have you ever met someone who listened to one kind of music all day, every day and nothing else? Those people freak me out. Maybe it's just my imagination, but I can see a kind of xenophobic mania in their eyes. If you just mention anything outside their be-all genre then you'd better move fast or they'll be chasing you down the hall with an axe. Fortunately, I'm not one of those folks. Believe it or not, I like a good pop record just as much as the next music fan. However, there's a word that deserves some emphasis back there -- good. While nothing is more of a let down than an awful metal album, nothing is quite as annoying as an awful pop album.
Mayfair Laundry's first album, "Scrub," doesn't land in that category. Now that's quite an admission from me, given my whole purchasing experience. One, hear the songs as Mp3s. Two, buy the albums (in your face, RIAA!). Three, discover that all the songs I'd heard were from the second album, "New and Improved." Four, discover that this album contains more than a little funk and ska. Blech! Fortunately, I bought it from CMX (Christian Music Exchange), so at least I wasn't out major moolah.
On "Scrub" the band attempts to create a ska/psuedo-punk/rock/funk fusion. Influences range from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to No Doubt to all the ska bands to various older 60's-style bands. Quick quiz. Which other Christian hybrid-sound band dawned earlier in the decade and went on to relatively large success? If you answered "Dakota Motor Company" you just hit the nail on the head. I get the impression that the record company felt that Mayfair was the next big thing in that vein. Unfortunately, this album doesn't bear out any such hopes.
In this song, Mayfair Laundry establishes a pattern used throughout the album: a funk, ska, or somewhat eccentric verse followed by a major-chord chorus. A steady, loping pace and metaphorical lyrics seasoned with eerily familiar trumpet riffs round out the work. Nothing spectacular happens here, although the chorus is somewhat catchy.
Songs like this make you wonder if the band is trying to be silly or if they missed their target by a country mile. The ratcheted-up tempo and the pattersong verses propel you into a feeling of light, fluffy, silliness. Then you hit the psuedo-agressive punk background vocals of "I want lovely!" The bridge and ending section feature more spazzy vocal effects that build up an impression of a greenhorn band. Lyrically, the song alludes to "How lovely on the mountain are the feet of him who brings good news!" (Isaiah 52:7 NAS) It's a simple conceit, repeated enough to stick in your mind, but not enough to be annoying.
"Flowersfall" is a slow, dreamy emo song disrupted by out-of-place 7th chords. You'll know these chords when you hear them, believe me. They effectively halt the song and reveal a greater flaw with the songs in general. The band just doesn't connect the dots, musically speaking. Their segues are about as smooth as your average mountain range.
Wait and See
The lyrics for this song steal the show.
"You really think that maybe
If you just play it clean
You'll get your little planet
Where you can reign supreme
You say you're keeping the rules
And you pay your dues right now
Reduce, recycle, reuse
Come back a holy cow."
It's a humorous little dig at Hinduism, and the chorus encourages devotees to not wait a few lifetimes to see if they're right. The lyrics for other songs map out the same territory -- slightly-humorous, nonstandard yet simple explorations of life from a Christian worldview. While not directly evangelical, they avoid the infamous "You" curse and the easy road of inspecificity.
By this point in the album, the excellent production proved itself inescapable. Each instrument was sharp and distinct, yet the vocal tracks blended together harmoniously. There wasn't a thing buried or muddied by the mix. That's when I checked the CD and noticed that the back cover listed the producers -- John and Dino Elefante. The record company pulled no punches on the production! (For those of you not in the know, the Elefante brothers are production legends. Their work on Petra's "On Fire!" remains a touchstone even years after the fact.)
The band comes tantalizingly close to firing on all four cylinders here. With the acoustic guitar intro and the reflective vocals, you're plunged into midwestern ballad territory. Lead vocalist Shannon Woolner feels completely at home here; the natural, acoustic textures of the song suit the rougher edges of her country/rock voice just right. Songs like this are ones that she was meant to sing. The drums and beat-keeping bass, and then strings and organ come in tastefully as you might expect. The song is tightly-constructed, with each piece falling into place perfectly. The vocals are smooth and expressive; the strings add a wistful flair; the lyrics creatively reflect touching devotion; everything works.
Yet, the song fails overall because it avoids the build-ups in the pre-chorus, the usual expansive guitar solos and the natural topography of rock ballads -- a series of peaks and valleys. The song remains mellow for its duration and as a result, never captures the listener's full attention. The song could have been a good 35% better if the band just did what what came naturally, but even here, at their best, they couldn't pull it off.
My Dear Watson
If you think that '60's rock and ska have something in common, then you'll most likely enjoy this song. Solid licks hold out the promise of a unified effort, but that evaporates with the processed chorus vocals and the accompanying cheesy, groan-inducing lyrics ("My dear Watson, get a clue! What did you learn in elementary school?"). The self-destruct sequences between main musical phrases shouldn't surprise you by now, and the vocal arpeggios towards the end sound so familiar you might think they were stolen. Studio chatter wraps up the song and the album, aptly summarizing the whole project as uneven, non-serious, perhaps fun, but definitely not up to par. "Scrub" clocks in at a little over 30 minutes, however, and that fact helps softens the blow.
Everything about this album is better than the music itself. The layout sparkles with a quirky 60's feel; the production reflects another world-class feat by the Elefante brothers; the photography captures the band's spirit, even though it has a penchant for the admittedly cute lead singer. Even the arrangements are tasteful in the scope of what the band is doing; nothing's overdone or out-of-place. The musicians themselves obviously have talent, from the guitars to the horn section to the lead vocals. But it just doesn't ever gel, except in "Wonderful Wonder" and then, only barely, as if the band were locked in a small room and held at contract-point until they recorded a quality single.
The attempts to break out of traditional structures by inserting chords that don't work or by not completing a phrase and letting it fall off into outer space simply do not work. They sabotage the songs and prevent them from building up any emotional momentum. When the songs ends, you feel like nothing has happened -- you haven't journeyed into other atmospheric worlds; you don't feel any particular emotion; you're not effervescing with adrenaline. You won't cry. You won't think much. You won't be driven to your knees, but you might tap your foot for a few bars or giggle here and there.
"Scrub" just isn't meant to be taken seriously. It's probably best enjoyed while you're studying, working, cleaning house or doing anything but actively listening. That way you probably won't notice the structural problems or attempts at innovation. It honestly seems like it was intended as background music, and as that, it does the job. (Of course, you might want to stop vacuuming and listen to "Wonderful Wonder" a few times, before you sigh and go back to carpet mowing.)
My final impression? "Scrub" was diverting, only mildly annoying, and only one song made me groan aloud ("My Dear Watson"). The album's not painful to listen to, but neither did I learn or feel anything by listening to it. I suppose if you enjoy fusion styles or ska and don't want ungodly music, you could pick this up for a few dollars used. However, "New and Improved" surpasses this album in every way. If you buy only one Mayfair Laundry album, make it that one.