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When I was younger, I went water skiing with my family. I wasn’t particularly good at it, spending more time with my head underwater than I did standing up. But, despite this constant failure, I quite enjoyed myself, until all of a sudden something touched my legs. Looking back, this was probably a piece of seaweed or a small fish, but at the time it was Cthulu himself reaching out to drag me into the depths. My parents had to drag me back onboard in an almost catatonic state.
This experience is exactly what it feels like to listen to the new Mermaidens album, Undergrowth: a sense of unexplained danger, a threatening invisible leviathan that you, the listener, are treading just above.
Despite the band’s short life span, their sound has changed immensely. Originally comprised of two guitars and a drummer, one could argue that this dish was palatable to a wider audience. But being palatable isn’t excellence. After switching a guitar for a bass, the Mermaidens sound has become a lot more fleshed out—flesh being the best term of use as it invokes images of fish markets, headless creatures being dragged from the depths and put on display. But, these beasts have been cooked to perfection. They are the kind of meal you remember; one that you look back on and judge all other meals against. The tracks “Undergrowth” and intro piece “Under The Mountain II”, are perhaps the best example of this. They have many mouthfuls on offer: tempo shifts and crisp guitar riffs that are buried in feedback, clean and airy vocals that are drenched in reverb and echo, each with an innate sense of beauty that’s obscured, hidden. All of this is just waiting for you to enjoy.
This is definitely one of my more metaphorical reviews, and with good reason. Undergrowth is steeped in imagery, with continuous themes of crawling, pulling, and escaping. Lines like, “the water is closing/over our heads” (from title track “Undergrowth”) add to the visceral depth of the instrumentals, and create morphing, evolving images as all the best psych rock does—although, I’m wary to label this psych.
All together, the opposing elements—the dark and brooding environment with glimmers of light floating above—are a very enjoyable listen. If you feel like listening to the best underwater-salem-witch-trials-heavy-psych-alternative-rock that not only Wellington, but New Zealand, has to offer; this is by far the best place to start.
Five fish on this plate.
(Full disclosure: I worked with Lily, the bassist of the band, last year and was sent a promo copy of the album to review. However, in the interest of being impartial, I decided to write this review drunk.)