It’s tempting to use words like “infectious” when discussing New York dancepunk outfit Measles Mumps Rubella. Yet witty it may be, it’s not always true. On Fantastic Success, the group’s new full-length, there’s a fair share of catchy, danceable moments, and that’s as good a reason as any to enjoy this band, an outfit that is most certainly capable of getting some beads of sweat to drip down the faces of the party people on the dance floor. But in between the grooves and the disco, MMR can also throw down some soupy, psychedelic shoegazer drones, the likes of which bands like !!! and The Rapture have almost certainly never come close to doing.
That Measles Mumps Rubella comes across almost as two different bands at times makes them all the more intriguing. The “dancepunk” descriptor no longer seems quite as valid, the next best tag I could come up with being “no-gaze.” MMR’s melodic duality may not seem quite so apparent at first, as Fantastic Success‘s opener “Algorithm of Desire” sounds a lot like typical dance punks such as Erase Errata or early Liars. Vocalist Chuck Bettis howls almost atonally in John Lydon fashion, as the metronomic hi-hat beat guides the whirring, digital delay guitar. The title track builds on a similar idea, starting out much more restrained, yet continuing to pulsate and expand like mutant yeast, ultimately blowing the door off the oven and letting the heat out with distorted riffs and a heavier set of rhythms.
It’s around track three where the dancepunk delusions begin to fade, as the manic, swirling cacophony of “Libra Science” drops any notion of ass shaking in favor of tripped-out space odyssey. “Hollow Bodies” still relies heavily on hi-hat beats, but the melody is arguably of a different genre, one more sinister and more chaotic. Taking another climactic approach to building and releasing tension, MMR go from haunting ambience to manic chaos, droning guitars and bleating horns filling in the gaps.
There is, of course, the sonic aspect, but what really separates Measles Mumps Rubella from most familiar dancepunk acts is that they’re, frankly, a lot better. MMR are unafraid of taking risks or of altering their sound however they see fit. Not every song on Fantastic Success is fit for a loft party, though the ones that are can really cook. As do the psychedelic freakouts, which sometimes eclipse the more accessible tracks. Measles Mumps Rubella are a testament to the creative spirit, giving both a fun and carefree set of dance music as well as a weirder, less easily categorized diversion into more experimental sounds.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.