The Mint Chicks ‎– Screens

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**RSD 2019, 10th Anniversary Edition**

Following the unparallelled artistic and commercial success of Crazy?Yes!Dumb?No! in 2006, The Mint Chicks made a series of moves which might have made no sense to outsiders, but mirrored perfectly the internal logic of their machine. Firstly, when you’ve finally cracked the local market, won a boatload of Tuis and gotten mainstream radio play with your bizarro pop, surely it behooves you to retrench and pay back some of that faith? Instead they booked tickets to Portland, capital of the indie rock universe maybe, but around 11,000 kilometres away from the place which had finally, after five years, figured out how to love the prickly young men. And when the chemistry of your band is paramount, the strange impulses audible in your music now making perfect sense, speaking in unison for maybe the first time, surely then it’s incumbent upon you to keep that unit together? So parting company with (and not replacing) bassist Michael Logie, often the only guy who looked like he was actively enjoying the process, almost takes you back to square one. Which, it turns it out, is probably exactly where they want to be. Screens sounds like a brand new band making their first record. That’s not to say it doesn’t sound like The Mint Chicks, because there’s definitely only one band on earth (specific location irrelevant) who could have made this, but it has the energy and pure new sound of a band spewing out a lifetime’s worth of ideas into their first album. Which, it barely needs pointing out, is a very good thing. The album opens with Red, White Or Blue, a song which functions as something of a national anthem for their newly colonised territory, celestial harmonies floating over a thin but fierce noise-pop bed. It has that Beach Boys thread running though it, a band I’ve heard The Mint Chicks call out on more than one occasion, but sounds like Brian Wilson grew up on the shores of Three Mile Island rather than California. As a primer for the album, it’s perfect, and one of the best sounds they’ve ever made. That bleeds into 2010, one of the earliest songs from the three-piece era, with a piece of Mussorgsky’s Pictures At An Exhibition jacked for a staccato melody before dissolving into a bashfully romantic pop lyric, highlighted by some spectacularly free guitar playing from Ruban Nielson, which nonetheless fails to detract from the wistful love song at its core. The 7” version from over a year ago was rougher and lacked the finesse present here, a predominantly production-based riddle which they’ve largely solved. Where C?Y!D?N! sounded like a technicolour explosion, Screens is more a riot of pastels, and at first this is somewhat disorienting, even disappointing, to those expecting a repeat of the immediate thrills of its predecessor. But it’s a time thing. Give yours and Screens reveals its secrets, in some ways as an album purer and less manic than the one that came before it. That wistful tone found on 2010 is repeated throughout; Don’t Sell Your Brain Out could be 1910 Fruitgum Company with its bubblegum vocal line, though the music is far too clanky. In some ways this is Kody Nielson’s album, he actually sings more than ever and often provides the hooks via his keyboard playing, allowing Roper and Ruban to go deeper into their robot pop, safe in the knowledge they’re always tethered to the melody by Kody’s expansive mood. Singles like What A Way and Life Will Get Better Some Day provide a welcome respite from a mid-tempo which would otherwise see the songs congeal, the latter’s treated vocal as affecting as anything they’ve ever conjured. There’s nothing so shocking as the title track of C?Y!D?N!, and I hope that doesn’t affect the commercial impact of the album, but in Life Will… they’ve found a song which might even outdo it for emotional impact. It closes out on a calmly reflective note, the end of an album not nearly so surprising as the predecessor to which it will inevitably be compared, but one that shows they’ve survived and thrived through their self-imposed trials, and retained the intense magnetism which drew us here in the first place. Screens won’t shock you from your apathy, but given time it proves again that the three-piece Mint Chicks remain the country’s benchmark for evolution and ambition, and have delivered their second truly great album.

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