Review by David Barrett
As far as hooks go, Trevor Henderson's driving and distorted squeeze box, complementing an idiosyncratic mixture of instrumentation, harmonies and sounds, accomplishes it's end in reeling you in and catching your attention in Music Maul's latest album, BOXY. Limiting the tracks to– for the most part– about 3 minutes in length hints at a poppish approach to song writing and overall the album arguably has a college radio feel to it; you can imagine these songs spilling out into the street outside any Canadian college campus pub. Listening to BOXY keeps the listener on their toes as the unconventional mix of instruments, the blend of alt-folk & pop and the lyrical sensibilities of principle song writer Trevor Henderson (Hell Billys) lend their music quite a unique sound. It's almost as if they're taking from several genres and traditional instrumental match ups and giving it all a good....mauling. If I were to pigeonhole this album into a genre I would, with its occasional lower fidelity and slightly dreamy atmosphere, go with maybe Garage Pop–Fauxk.
From the opening track, ”Second Story" –which starts with a flourish and clatters into a purposeful driving pace–through to the closing track, "Dunno Why", the songs are sprinkled with celestial 80s-esque keyboard effects, occasional harmonies and regular change ups. Interestingly, Trevor Henderson's vitreous vocals demand space in which to breathe. To overshadow his singing would be fairly easy to do, so harmonies (from Sticky Henderson, Julia Schall and Sarah Harmer), while complementing the lead vocals well, fade in and out and the more voluminous instrumental portions of songs recede where his vocals step to the fore. "Something in the Water", written by the guitarist, Brent Hough (Bellevue, 1977), is a bit of a departure from this and has an almost do-wop pace to it with mournful vocals, layered and balancing a fine line, fragile as thinly spun glass. It has that mercurial feel as if recorded at four in the morning.
"Know Me" is a beer hall song (on psilocybin), appealing for the object of the narrator's attention to get to know his sober self rather than his less sober side. While exactly not a ballad in its delivery (“I could give you cellars to explore/You could give me someone to adore”) the use of the squeeze box gives it something of a sea shanty feel, again with pop counterpoints. “Mayhemic Dogs” is perhaps the most melodically polished number on the album. Good use of the pedal steel and an 80s-esque keyboards give the song a "classic" Music Maul feel.
"Flyway", a Julia Schall (Ass Machine) song, is the longest of the tracks at almost 6 minutes. An ethereal sound and mood pervades this piece, with a slow purposeful tempo and vocals that soar/hover above the rhythmic instruments- apt title for a nice little song. In stark contrast, "Tidy" has a shuffling pace like the sweeping of a broom, and is a quick (under 2 minutes in length), quirky song about washing dishes, and cleaning floors "behind Dutch doors".
"Sorry" once again uses the squeezebox to set the tone and pace, and has the characteristic Music Maul sound- driving beat with frequent changes, vocals holding firm and occasionally rising into the upper register, the rhythmic instruments accentuating but not necessarily challenging the listener with any kind of complexity. "Renderworld" slows things down again, opening with drums and squeezebox morphing into pedal steel crying above a bum......badum drumbeat. With solid harmonies it has a dreamlike, floating feel to it (added bonus of incorporating the word "sluice-gates"). "Dunno Why I” is one of the few songs on the album in which an acoustic guitar enjoys any real prominence and so leaves a little more room for the careful measured vocals of Henderson.
In producing an album such as this, I think a lot of thought has to go in to how to balance the instruments, too much sound can overpower some of the more delicate facets of the mix but at the same time each instrument adds to the atmosphere that permeates throughout the tracks. Lyrically the songs have quirky personalities of their own ("hey there fancy keys/ you screwed up all the melodies"), which in itself makes this album an interesting listen but on balance it's the unique sounds and instrumentation that brings you back to revisit.