Mice On Stilts - An Ocean Held Me

Kev Rowland

ImageWhen I was first asked to join the Crossover team on ProgArchives I was intrigued enough to say “yes”, the result of which has been that I now spend way too much time listening to bands and working on the site as opposed to just writing reviews. But, the huge positive is that I get to hear bands that otherwise would pass me by, and MOS is a case in point. They were recommended to us to see if we felt that they would be a worthy addition so I added them to the list and jumped over to their Bandcamp site to play the album. 34 minutes later I was in quite a state, as I had just played a debut EP that honestly is quite different to most of the music I am sent to listen to. Then the realization slowly came that these guys were Kiwi, current, and playing in and around Auckland! Now, to be fair to the local music scene I don’t get out much, as I live in the middle of nowhere some 70 kms north of Auckland (although I pay rates to Auckland Council even though I’m not on the mains water or sewage system, and have a gravel road and no street lights or public transport – of course I’m an Aucklander!! Yeah, right). But, I had never come across this band at all, and that was a loss definitely to me, and if I wasn’t finding out about them when I live in a small country, who on earth would have heard this name outside NZ?

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Locally recorded and produced, this was released on the local Triple A Records (Allgood Absolute Alternative) as a digipak, with a booklet and is a great presentation, which definitely makes it worthwhile getting this instead of just the download. The band was put together by Ben Morley (guitar, vocals) and contains a large and interesting musical line-up, with the rest of the band comprising Sam Hennessy (viola), Aaron Longville (saxophone /trumpet), Rob Sander (drums), Sam Nash (bass), Nick Wright (piano/rhodes/vocals) and Joseph Jujnovich (vocal effects). Yes, you did read that correctly, here is a seven-piece band trying to make a name for themselves in small venues. Also, did you note that it contains both brass and strings? Lastly, what about having someone who provides vocal effects and what exactly does it all mean?

Only five songs, but they create a world where nothing else exists apart from the music and vocals. I have been trying to think who they remind me of, and in some ways it is early Pink Floyd, Muse, Radiohead, VDGG, Peter Hammill, Roy Harper and others, but mostly it is Mice On Stilts. Here we have a band that are a stated seven-piece but in fact are an eight-piece with that incredibly important musician, Space, used effectively and throughout. Just because there are many musicians doesn’t mean that they are all necessarily playing at the same time (although they can and do), and it is this use of silence as an important musical layer that assists in the dramatic shifts that can take place. “Vulnerable Vader” goes from sublime to chaotic and both styles are affected by the presence of the other.

Joseph is also playing an integral part, as his use of effects often brings together different styles or provides that over the top element that is just what the song needs. The longest song is the closer, “Tuatara Lawn” at 12:36 (for those who haven’t come across that word before, and to be honest I hadn’t before coming here, tuatara are reptiles endemic to this country and which, although resembling most lizards, are part of a distinct lineage), and the only issue I have with the song is that it is actually way too short! The only thing that keeps my sanity is putting the whole album on repeat and playing it time and again.

Of course, once I had discovered them I had to go and see them live so last month I managed to catch up with them at a local venue, and I and 50 other brave souls saw an incredible performance with the guys hardly having any room to move on stage yet somehow managed to reproduce music that is incredibly deep, moving and emotional. The only thing that let the evening down, was when I was approached by someone who thought that the only reason someone of my age would be attending would be because my son was in the band!! But, that night I did learn that these guys are actually even more powerful in concert that on record! They definitely did remind me of a young Pink Floyd building and working at their craft, and if they had suddenly dropped “Interstellar Overdrive” into their set I wouldn’t have been surprised (they didn’t). I am going to see them again in a couple of days at a rather larger festival, and I can’t wait to see them in a bigger setting as if they can do that when they have to stay rooted to the spot what are they going to do when they have some freedom?

They are hoping to come to Europe at some point, but until then it is just us Kiwis who are able to catch them in concert. So, if you want to hear some of the deepest and most interesting music I have come across in a while then visit miceonstilts.bandcamp.com or http://www.miceonstilts.co.nz/. Too often these days music can be shallow and one-dimensional, but this is multi-faceted and contains a maturity that should not be overlooked.   

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