Mirrorsigns — Qualia album review
No Label, Or Many
I’m often quick to dismiss Philadelphia as “New York, but worse” in casual conversation. It has a lower population by a few factors, a comically grotesque accent, and, until recently, a disgraceful record in national sports.
But that’s just because I live in it. What self-respecting city-dweller doesn’t allege hatred for their home?
Truthfully, Philly has a lot to offer aside from The Birds™ and extremely well publicized sports related riots. A lower population by a few factors, cheapish rent, and best of all, a world class indie music scene. A huge chunk of under-30s spend practically every night, and certainly every weekend night, at house shows or local underground venues like Kung Fu Necktie and The Barbary.
DIY and Bandcamp acts abound in Philly, and even though guitars have fallen out of the charts as anything but benchwarmers and novelties, here rock of an incredible variety dominates the indie scene. From jam bands to cheeky indie pop, the rock form is embedded into the underground ethos.
I got the chance to listen to Mirrorsigns (stylized mirrorsigns) new album Qualia, and the self-proclaimed “experimental-transcendental-psychedelic babewave” band is a clear product of the underground rock scene in Philadelphia. Their music, from the interlocking guitars to the quavering vocals, merges earnest Britrock youthfulness with pensive Shoegaze ambience, oftentimes within the same song.
Qualia is a philosophical term basically referring to subjective experience, with a connotation of immediacy. In a phrase, “What does this feel like, right now?” Qualia reflects this brilliantly in spirit. The lyrics are simple and elicit an idyllic appreciation of nature and just being alive that’s right at home in the modern indie psychedelic experience. Charlie Moon’s vocals serve more as an instrument, articulating a moment, a feeling, above a concrete lyrical story.
The accompanying instrumentals fall in lock step with the Qualia thesis. White-noise guitars layer in the background while zonked-out leads seem to linger just behind the beat, or as on “Beyond,” just behind the vocals they’re emulating.
The album opens with an instrumental, “The Great Serpent.” On this track, Ryan Navin and Moon’s lines glide as if under the surface of the ocean until the song ultimately breaches, halting the motion of the song just for a moment for some staccato hits that resolve the tension of their driving grooves.
I was impressed by the bands musical worldliness within the short span of the album. On the same song, Cameron Wingnut’s lap steel guitar playing — a novelty in itself — outlines some unusual scales. Its timbre resembles a sitar, making “The Great Serpent” into what sounds like Afghan-punk groove-rock. Wingnut is not actually his name.
Mirrorsigns excels at musical counterplay, and each track leans into this strength. This spirit fuels their live shows, as each song has the potential to open up at any point and suddenly turn into an extended jam. In studio form, however, it can also serve as a weakness. While the production and musicianship are stellar, it does feel like there are songs that want terribly to let loose. This is especially obvious because one song — “Destiny” — does exactly that, and feels more complete for it. “Destiny” starts off with a proper rock statement before suddenly boiling over into a rubber-band whiplash release of tension.
There is, I think, a stigma surrounding jam rock though, and I admire that the band kept some of their songs to more concise statements. They can’t all swing into overdrive for 8 minutes.
The album’s most exciting moments come from these abrupt changes in pace, a dynamic too often missing in even the most popular rock. Many bands would falter mixing such differing ideas, but Mirrorsigns threads the needle with surprising clarity. “Fire Dancer” plays with multiple sonic ideas: at first sludgy and downbeat, “Fire Dancer” shifts gears once to upbeat garage rock and then, at last, to a spirited outro in three.
Shifting the time signature to the whimsical three for the closing song gives the album an effervescent feel and leaves you with no doubt that Mirrorsigns is, as cliche as it sounds, living here, now, and they want you to as well.
Go check it out, and you’ll see what I mean.