Limitation breeds creativity, and Portland indie outfit Mope Grooves exhibits this to its greatest strength in their fourth LP Desire. From the construction of their records, which were spray-painted, screen-printed and glued all in DIY fashion, to their home recorded lo-fi music that blends art pop and krautrock together using minimalist instruments played to their maximum effect, it is clear that this LP was crafted with great care in spite of its shoestring limits and imperfections. The result is nothing short of wonderful. It’s bold, whimsical, with a lot of intrigue and peculiarity.
The opening “Turn to Glass” is headlines with an atonal chord progression that lingers in between a dream and a trance. Stevie Pohlman comes in with an incantation that borders on accusatory: “I know nothing is true so how can you lie the way that you do?”. The spell concludes with the commanding “Turn to Glass!” urging you to wake up in attention, while the instruments lull you into submission.
“Smashed Landscape” continues with sharp vitriol. A cavalcade of sounds are thrown into a pit of chaos, with a howling siren, gritty bass and abrasive drums all fighting for supremacy. It feels unnerving and grim, as if the listener is forced to confront the decaying reality around them.
After this point though, the music lightens up significantly till the end, where songs enter heavily into krautrock and Mope Grooves start to create their intricate tapestries. “Swimmer” opens with an entrancing xylophone and a percussive groove that feels constant at first, yet subtle changes in the background emerge and develop into a full journey. A good way to illustrate how the small steps taken can accumulate into big leaps.
Centerpiece “Pictures of the Moon” is full of harsh textures, yet they are used in such a graceful way that it results in a dreamy carousel. It’s a wild and bumpy ride yet one that still can be considered pleasant or even pretty among its peers. The title track “Desire” creates the same whimsical atmosphere, but this time the band uses multiple counterpoints and phasing rhythms that are very different in isolation yet somehow converge seamlessly into a cohesive piece, one that illustrates the nature of a wild desire.
Other highlights include “Bicycle Dancers” which uses a see-saw of synths, xylophone, keys and weaves them into a choir of celestial energy. “Split Fruit” stands out with its heavy use of percussive sounds and enthic-sounding strings that culminate into a meditative trance that channels nature and technology into one.
A clear vision and a thought-provoking listen. Desire is a record that challenges conventions and comes out with something wholly unique. A wild cathartic ride from start to end.