Dave Mehling is a Minnesota based songwriter, performer and educator. Most recently he released Tired Fruit, an album of ambient compositions and Beach Boy, a smorgasbord of musical styles ranging from folk and electronic to drone and avant-garde. He also performs with songwriter and disability rights activist Gaelynn Lea, and artists such as Emily Haavik and Haley Rydell. Currently, he is working on an immersive audio album featuring dulcimer and zither improvisations. Beach Boy was recorded live at the Pearl Recording Studio in Minneapolis over ambient loops that Mehling had made with engineer Jason McGlone (who also helped mix the album). Rob Schlette did the mastering. Three takes were recorded of each tune, then during the past year, Mehling mixed and matched, remixed, sampled and reworked the live sessions into what you hear on the album. A lot of outboard gear, drum machines and modular synthesizers were used - from the H3000 to a wide variety of granular delays. You'll also find some odd samples and found sounds - a reverse hyena cackle, an icy creek and a sample from an audio book of “Wuthering Heights.” Thematically, the songs center around disruptions in our mental health and in our world. Mehling recorded alongside an all-star cast of musicians including Thomas Nordlund, Gaelynn Lea, Pratik Singh and Emiy Haavik. Stylistically, you’ll hear repetitive rhythms of the tabla and various folk, rock and avant-garde genres. Mehling also included a Townes Van Zandt and a Steely Dan cover.
“What About Tonight?” starts things off with a soulful, bass-y style that reminds me of something from the singer/songwriters from the ‘70s. The backing vocals were terrific! “Do You Know Where You’re Going?” starts off with what was mentioned as a “reverse heyena cackle” and then the band starts playing in a kind of, new alt-country folk style. The tabla hand drums weave in and out between verses, breaks and guitar solos (of which there is a fantastic one later). Emily Haavik accompanies Mehling on vocals during the chorus, and then a break comes at almost the halfway mark. At just over eight minutes long, I thought this song had a unique position on the album in relation to the others. “Big Time Sadness” features a deep electronic beat, tabla and piano in the beginning. You’ll also hear some fuzz/guitar effects faintly coming in and out. The song overall has a haunting, moody vibe but I loved its melody. With “Tired Eyes” you’ll hear a plethora of sounds – the tabla drums played by Pratik Singh, the bass clarinet played by Sean Egan, funking wah-wah guitar sounds and great back up singing. Kind of bummed this was a short song because I liked it a lot.
The next song is called “The Catfish Son,” a song written by Townes Van Zandt. Mehling and company keep Van Zandt’s spirit alive with the upright bass (played by Andrew Foreman) sounding sweet and low. The song is played in a classic waltz fashion. Altogether, this rendition is haunting and beautiful. “Bad Bad Heart” comes in with echoing electric guitar parts and slow, acoustic rhythm. The tabla comes in a little later and then makes a stronger presence. It’s a unique instrument and I think it works quite well with Mehling’s style and ambient folk sounds. Towards the song’s end, there’s a collage of sounds – piano and drum machines perhaps was all I could recognize. But all of it was fascinating to hear. Next is “Garden” – a more straightforward rock n’ roll song with familiar arrangements. Crazy twisted drum fills and heavy guitar distortion can be found here – I loved it! The backing vocals were great, too.
“Show Biz Kids” is a Steely Dan cover, which clocks in three minutes longer than the original, begins with the sounds of a deep electric beat and the tabla drum. I have to say, I prefer Mehling’s longer take of this lesser-known Steely Dan number – it’s funkier, groovier and way more experimental. The last tune is “Hold On, Hold Tight” – a song with rich ambient and folk styles and a fantastic, tender melody keeping it altogether. In the end, I thought Dave Mehling’s Beach Boy offered some distinctive styles and sounds, that mixed together, created a new kind of experimental music that was refreshing to hear.
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