The Mae Shi’s history is prime fodder for “Behind the Music,” from their punk rock beginnings, playing their spastic riff-blasts at house parties and handing out mixtapes of random songs, to their recent drama that found a member in rehab, three members starting a new band, and a breakdown of communication between members. At this point, the future of the band remains highly uncertain, and more confusing than ever. But before all of the ugly drama that emerged this year, The Mae Shi released the best album of their career, HLLLYH.
HLLLYH is a mighty climax for The Mae Shi, an album that found the band easing off of their laser-beam spazz-punk bursts in favor of an album heavy on melody, hooks and structure. It also happens to be a heavily religious-themed concept album. Of course, a Mae Shi album that references Christianity is unlike anyone else’s Christian themed record. While there may be a song called “Lamb and Lion,” it’s the farthest thing from traditional hymnal. Casio keyboard melodies flutter and drums shuffle, as Jonathan Gray leads a heavenly choir of sublime voices toward an epileptic electro-punk march. Even Danielson was never this odd.
The highlights on HLLLYH are fast and frequent, offering a strange kind of inspiration in fun, but disturbing ways. “Pwnd” finds Gray declaring “this is an open invitation/ you can keep the bodies, we’re here for the souls.” The 85 seconds of “Boys In the Attic” offer a badass rock `n’ roll headrush with riffs galore. “7xx7” is a miniature rock opera, dramatic and unhinged, while “The Melody” offers what its title promises in a big way, with big, catchy verses and a chorus that deserves a raised glass. “Leech and Locust” is a bit more unsettling, with its massive guitar licks and foreboding drum stomps, later transforming into a high-pitched synth dirge. And then, of course, there’s “Run To Your Grave,” the massive single that stands as the single greatest peak in The Mae Shi’s career (though many other songs here come close). It’s a fists-in-the-air, lighters-in-the-sky anthem, full of hand claps and hooks, as spectacular as noisy synthpunk gets.
Of course, there is a sore spot on HLLLYH, that being the 11-minute digital megamix titled “Kingdom Come,” which is placed right smack in the middle of the album. The group gets points for effort, but it’s not all that good, particularly when skipping past it means getting to such wonderful songs as “Party Politics,” “Book of Numbers” and the epic title track. The Mae Shi may never make another record like this, and it’s entirely possible that if the band even continues to exist, they won’t look the same as they did. But even if this was the end of a chapter in the band’s career, HLLLYH is one hell of a way to close it.
Video: “Run To Your Grave”
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.