A peculiar thing happened during the recording of Mandy, Indiana‘s new album, i’ve seen a way. The group had lugged their gear deep inside a cave in Bristol, England, to take advantage of the acoustic qualities formed by its unique contours—the likes of which can’t be found in a conventional recording studio. Yet near the end of their spelunking session, they ended up being greeted by an unlikely visitor who wasn’t sure what to make of his discovery.
“Scott went and recorded the drums in a cave in Bristol that had kind of a pool of water, and halfway through the recording, a cave diver came up and had no idea what was going on,” says the group’s vocalist Valentine Caulfield via a Zoom call.
The disoriented cave diver is an apt stand-in for anyone hearing the music of Mandy, Indiana for the first time. It’s throttling, chaotic, urgent yet cacophonous—as much noise as dance music, as much born of concept as it is pure, physical catharsis. It’s not pop music exactly, or at least Caulfield is hesitant to call it as such, and it’s easy to see her point when hearing the band’s debut album i’ve seen a way, out this week via Fire Talk, on which the band presents a playful and unpredictable new spin on sonic annihilation.
The Manchester, UK-based band—comprising guitarist Scott Fair, synth player Simon Catling, drummer Alex Macdougall, and vocalist Caulfield, who has since moved to Berlin—goes to unusual lengths to capture those immense sounds. Much of the album features recordings from unconventional locales, including the previously mentioned cave, a crypt in Bristol, and a shopping center where Caulfield recorded her own voice in an acoustically resonant space. In hindsight, it was probably inevitable that their on-location sessions might lead to circumstances outside of their control; likewise, their music at its most thrilling feels at times like an eruption of chaos, barely held together through gravity’s pull.
Speaking from her mother’s home in Paris, where the two will later participate in a May Day protest later that same day, Caulfield explains that seeking out these makeshift recording spaces outside the path of least resistance can be immensely rewarding toward the finished product—that is, if nothing goes wrong.
“If [the cave] recording hadn’t come through properly, we’d have been fucked,” she says. “There’d be no album. Scott keeps saying it was so loud in that cave. There was no power, they had to bring power sources and stuff through there. He went and set up those drums, but as soon as they started playing, it turns out drums are really fucking loud in a cave, so they couldn’t monitor anything that they were recording and they only really heard the recordings the day after. It was a massive gamble and it ended up paying off. Which is really good because we ended up blowing a big chunk of the money on that. But it sounds so good, both massive and claustrophobic.”
It’s no exaggeration to call much of i’ve seen a way “cavernous,” from the haunted, techno-inspired opener “Love Theme (4K VHS)” to the resonant noise rock/industrial reverberations of the more tense, aggressive “Drag [Crashed]”. Yet while the band’s razor’s edge sonic treatments ignite and detonate, Caulfield sings, chants and shouts in her native French, addressing everything from the rising threat of fascism in the world to more insidious, normalized, everyday misogyny and the anxiety and energy drain resulting from simply having to endure it all. “I hope someone takes the time to put my lyrics through Google translate and says ‘yes, it is time for a revolution!'” she says.
The collision of sounds and ideas central to Mandy, Indiana’s unique hybrid isn’t intended as an escape from the world or an attempt to disorient listeners from it, but to awaken something—even to employ sounds that reflect the reality that surrounds us. Caulfield points to one of the songs from their debut EP, “Bottle Episode,” as an example of that, featuring a siren-like sound that approximates that of a flood siren test that Fair often hears in his home village just outside Manchester. It’s a lot to absorb, let alone fully process, but to release something that was passive or ignorable would be the worst possible outcome for the band.
“There’s this idea that the music is very chaotic and there’s kind of this ongoing fight between the music and the vocals and stuff like that, because it’s inspired by the world around us,” Caulfield says. “I suppose we’re trying to rattle people’s bones, really. We’re trying to get catharsis out of it. We write music with an eye on the dance floor as well, and just getting those huge, massive, overwhelming sounds to purge whatever’s going on. It’s not the kind of music that’s necessarily an easy thing to listen to on a Sunday morning.”
Though Mandy, Indiana’s music is intended to challenge its audience, both sonically and in terms of the ideas that Caulfield explores lyrically, it is meant to be enjoyed by those willing to engage with something that doesn’t play by pop music’s rules. But beyond notions of aesthetic pleasure, Mandy, Indiana represents something for Caulfield that playing in more conventional indie rock bands never could: Freedom.
“I was in another band that ended about a year before Scott and I started making music. It was just a standard guitar band, I was in my early twenties, and I think I was just more concerned with being a pretty frontwoman and singing nicely,” she says. “But this band came at a time when I realized I wanted to be more honest with what I do. It’s just made me a completely different artist, really. I think it would be a lot harder to do with music that’s maybe more palatable. I talk about things that I want to talk about, which isn’t necessarily something that bands who are more mainstream can easily do. This has given me the ability to kind of rap on one song, and make another one a fairy tale, and then talk about beheading kings.
“It’s really liberating.”
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