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Mystery Girls - Incontinopia

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Artist: Mystery Girls

Album: Incontinopia

Label: In the Red

Review date: Feb. 27, 2009

Mystery Girls’ first, self-titled album was recorded in one day and mixed the next, a quick, crud-crusted blast of blues-slackened, soul-withered garage rock from the heartland. The band’s third CD, Incontinopia, has been sitting around since recording sessions in 2004 and 2005. It’s anyone’s guess what’s been taking so long, but one thing seems sure: they have not been twiddling knobs in search of the perfect sound. If anything, Incontinopia sounds muddier, more disoriented and less calculated than Mystery Girls, never mind the arty field recordings and French spoken word interruptions. If the first CD was Mystery Girls’ Blues Explosion, this third one is Royal Trux, its melodies glimpsed through a shit storm of distorted chaos.

The band is more or less the same one that formed at Green Bay’s Southwest High School in the early 00s – Casey Grajek singing, Matt Conger and Jordan Davis on guitars and Jamis Kipp on drums. Michael Zink was credited only with production on the 2002 debut – now he’s playing bass, organ, drums and writing songs. Justin Perkins recorded and produced Incontinopia as he has all the Mystery Girls albums, though it was a somewhat more elaborate job this time. The songs, gritty, sweaty and live sounding, are interspersed with studio effects and found recordings – a music box, a thunderstorm, sexy French girls, a southern man talking about the first stages of love and the boys in the band barking like dogs. It’s an odd mix, the raw authenticity of the music juxtaposed with the forced irony of the samples, and it doesn’t work very well. What you take away from this album are the songs, which have nothing to do with these embellishments.

The first half of the album is quite strong, nonetheless. “Oh! Apollo,” once it ditches its precious introduction, has a swaggering, psychedelic heft to it, a la the Reigning Sound in a contemplative mood. But it’s with “I Took the Poison” that the band finds its soul-grinding, hard-blues groove, with a splintering riff right out of the MC5 playbook. This is, without doubt, the best song on the album, all thundering bass and crazed harmonic and R&B tinged, fist-shaking chorus. Waltz-timed, organ-swelling, “The Magic Is Gone,” isn’t bad either, if you like Elvis hip-shifting action in your romantic ballads. But with “We’re So Illegal,” things begin to get silly. What exactly is this “biblioteque du jambon” the girl is murmuring about, and why does “Quit Your Flying Around” (another very solidly grooving song) have to open with the boys simulating rabid canines?

The album’s second half is noticeably rougher, harder and more difficult to follow. “We Are the Death Cult” follows a flying wedge of guitar chords into bombed-out, murky chaos. There’s a song in there somewhere, but you can’t quite make it out. With “Cool It in Control,” the pace picks up, the guitars turn staccato and frantic and singer Casey Grajek’s voice starts to fray dangerously. It’s a good tune, but again, wrapped in murk and uncertainty. By comparison, the first half of Incontinopia seems far more sharply defined and executed. Endless “Cold Feet” takes this trend to its logical conclusion, jungle-beated, cave-echoing confusion. It’s like the Gris Gris, but even harder to get a grip on, and you can’t really tell whether the dissolution is getting in the way of the song or is, perhaps, the whole point.

So what we have is a handful of pretty good songs, wedged in between silly samples and buffeted by inchoate noise and distortion. Not a terrible deal, by any means, but why did it take four years?

By Jennifer Kelly

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