There are scenes and conversations in everyone’s lives that have little to know importance, and yet we remember them perfectly, as if they happened yesterday. About a year-and-a-half ago, I was at a Q and Not U show with a friend of mine, who happened to spot someone he knew. I wasn’t clear as to what their relationship was, but apparently my friend had been in the other guy’s car the week prior, listening to Drive Like Jehu. Between sets we were talking about music, as that often happens at rock shows, and my friend’s acquaintance says to me that his favorite band is Mock Orange. I had only heard of them through ads in Alternative Press, so I ask, “what are they all about.” He thinks, briefly before saying, “You know, they don’t really sound like anyone else. They’re just really innovative.”
Ordinarily, this sort of conversation would have had no bearing on any future events in my life, but listening to Mock Orange’s newest cd (and first in four years), Mind is Not Brain, it was the first thing that came to mind. Based on what that guy told me, I was expecting some math rock, a little shoegazer, perhaps some hardcore. I wasn’t really sure what to expect. And all the reviews I read of the band said they sounded like Sunny Day Real Estate, which they do, to some extent. But despite some similarities to a few other notable indie rock stalwarts, Mock Orange is, indeed, really innovative.
Mind is Not Brain, the band’s first for new label Silverthree, is a fun, energetic guitar rock record that doesn’t sound like guitar rock. There is a very prominent guitar presence, but Mock Orange are devoid of any clichés that convert rock into schlock. From the opening strum of “Payroll,” Mind is Not Brain is an intriguing listen. All of the songs are catchy, but have their share of bummer lyrics, like that of the aforementioned “Payroll,” which culminates in a chorus of “who turned on the let down/ what a sound/ watered down.” Nonetheless, “Payroll” absolutely rocks.
Musically, Mock Orange are indie rock guitar heroes. They obviously know their way around a Gibson, but know how to avoid wankery for wankery’s sake. The title track has its share of interesting syncopation and polyrhythmic guitar licks. “East Side Song” trades the electric guitars for a banjo. “Make Friends” sounds similar to a high octane update of Big Star’s “Down in the Street.” And “Old Man” is one of the few indie rock songs that uses blazing slide guitar the way it’s meant to be heard.
If you were to try and drum up comparisons to Mock Orange, Sunny Day Real Estate might be a fair estimate, though that band was always a little too serious for their own good. Built to Spill might be a better comparison, though Mock Orange ditches the cuddly lyrics. And Pavement is a fair assessment too, at times, though these guys obviously have more technical musical skill to back up their unique songwriting.
I don’t remember the name of the kid that recommended Mock Orange to me, but for some reason, I can’t forget about that conversation. And he was right, you know. Mock Orange is truly innovative.
Sunny Day Real Estate – LP2
Built to Spill – Keep it Like A Secret
Chavez – Ride the Fader
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.