Mice on Stilts, a New Zealand-based band, consist of eight members. They are Sam Hennessy (viola), Aaron Longville (sax and trumpet), Tim Burrows (bass), Brendan Zwaan (piano), Rob Sanders (drums), Ben Morley (guitar and vocalist), Joseph Jujnovich (vocal effects) and Calvin Davidson (synth and sax). The band calls their music “doom-folk,” which describes it best, because their sound is a hybrid of different genres working within its own realm of beats and tones.
Their EP An Ocean Held Me demonstrates the same passion and production as a five-act play. This gives its gritty-darkness a theatrical atmosphere. Every aspect of the album - the vocals, instruments, even the cover - feels carefully crafted, as layer upon layer peels to reveal a new part of the story.
The driving and unifying force behind An Ocean Held Me is the ocean imagery, and the figurative and metaphorical idea of it. In many tracks, they represent rebirth and death in its many forms. Songs begin simple, with one instrument taking the forefront, e.g. piano, violin, saxophone, etc., but eventually it builds into varying instrumental depths. This is a possible representation of the life process: the first breath (initial instrument) turns into the different elements of life (additional instruments) until one reaches death (end of song).
Every track on An Ocean Held Me fits within the album like a necessary key to unlock its story. “Binocular Bath” and “A Moss Ocean” work as companion pieces. They have similar messages of mourning, loss and death, along with ghostly sound effects. They differ in their approach to the same subject. “A Moss Ocean” takes a quiet path with the serene beauty of the piano. On the other hand, “Binocular Bath” starts slow but builds into a full force of musical emotions. Just as “A Moss Ocean” and “Binocular Bath” work as companions, “Syd’s Socks” and “Vulnerable Vader” act as bookends to each other. “Syd’s Socks” begins An Ocean Held Me like a rush towards the ocean, an embrace, but “Vulnerable Vader” runs from it, regretfully but necessarily. “Vulnerable Vader” felt like the concluding song, making “Tuatara Lawn” the epilogue.
Each track on An Ocean Held Me builds complex instrumental stories. As mentioned previously, they all begin with simplicity, relying on one instrument or note, and then they pile on varying sounds and peaks. The instruments and vocals shine in this album’s platform. Morley and Jujnovich’s voice and effects collaboration create a hard, yet incredibly vulnerable, tone to the tracks. Morley sings with clear diction and power, which brings the poetry of the An Ocean Held Me to life.
An Ocean Held Me by Mice on Stilts creates a musical experience only achieved with careful planning and a dedication to raw, emotional musical honesty.
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