I figured that if I was going to write a blog entry about one of these bands, it'd be Swing Kids. Their song "Forty Three Seconds" has been stuck in my head constantly for over two days now, and there's some interesting stuff going on in their music that's definitely worth a blog entry at some point in the future. But instead, I found myself thinking, while listening to this burned CD-R, about how interesting Mohinder's entire concept as a band is, and what a singular vision they captured in their brief recorded history. So here I am, writing a blog entry about Mohinder.
Mohinder released 3 7 inches while they were together, one being a split with the Nitwits. This means that they released 5 vinyl sides, each of which could only be 6 minutes long at maximum. And in fact, all of Mohinder's vinyl sides were a lot shorter than they could have been--despite the fact that there were sometimes 4 songs crammed onto each side of a Mohinder 7 inch. The reason they were able to fit so many songs in so little space was the sheer frantic energy that went into the writing of any and (almost) every Mohinder song. This wasn't necessarily apparent from the first seconds of their first EP; said EP, "O Nation You Bleed From Many Wounds", contained 5 songs, and began with "To Satisfy", which started out with a slow bass intro. The guitars and drums came in soon enough, and singer/guitarist Clay Parton screamed, "Is it ever enough? Will we ever rest?" over the relatively slow opening riff, giving a taste of what was to come; but the reality of what Mohinder was about didn't become apparent until the end of the verse, at which time everything dropped out except for one guitar. This guitar, playing a quiet arpeggio, was soon drowned out by the rest of the band coming back in at a much faster speed, frantically blasting through another verse, under which drummer James Furing laid down nervous, hyperspeed snare rolls. The band soon reverted to the original slower riff, over which Clay screamed, "We build unstable walls to block us in," before returning once again to the hyperspeed and ending with Clay screaming, "It's just a matter of time before we crush ourselves." As frantic as the fast parts of "To Satisfy" are, and as downbeat and foreboding as its lyrics may be, this song is one of the milder ones in Mohinder's catalog.
The thing about Mohinder that has always fascinated me is the way their songs, both musically and lyrically, sound like expressions of pure emotion. Clay Parton doesn't write his lyrics to express any sort of coherent narrative; rather, they come across like pure venting, an unfiltered response to the environmental conditions that greet him from day to day. And it's clear from the lyrics, and to some extent from the frantic tone of the music, that the emotion he's feeling is terror. Mohinder's music is the sound of a caged animal being backed into a corner, terrified enough to feel that doom is impending and inevitable, but not quite at the point where it's prepared to lash out yet. But Clay Parton is no animal--he's a human being, just one of many caught up in a vast, unresponsive society that cares not at all for how he feels about its operations. In "Inhuman Nature", he asks, "Do we live to make others suffer?", making clear that he recognizes his own complicity in the negative aspects of society, even if he doesn't like it. This song is followed by "Numb", in which he rails against those he sees as responsible: "You bastards, you cowards, why don't you do something?" Later in the song, he screams, "No! You don't know how I feel!", then repeats it, and this time the music drops out entirely for a second, giving emphasis to the lyric. He's frustrated and he's angry. But as he says elsewhere in the song, "Slowly I'll die now, and without pain. There's no cure, just a pat on the back to help me get used to it." He knows that, as angry as he is, he is also powerless.
This anger, fright, and ultimate lack of power is represented most effectively in the songs from the final Mohinder EP, an 8-song self-titled 7 inch released on Gravity Records. When I first bought this record, I couldn't figure out what was going on with it--I thought Mohinder had completely lost the plot. Then I figured out something that I'd initially thought was absurd--that the 7 inch played at 45 rpm, not 33. An 8 song 7 inch at 45 rpm seemed impossible, until I heard the songs and realized just how much faster and more intense Mohinder's songwriting had gotten. Original lead guitarist Dove Amber had quit after the split with the Nitwits, and these last 8 songs were recorded as a three-piece, which left much less room for frills. The slow parts that had appeared on songs like "To Satisfy" and "Itch", from the Nitwits split, were gone. Where song length had averaged 90 seconds to two minutes, the songs on this EP--the final one, as it turned out--were between 45 seconds and one and a half minutes. Lyrics were even shorter and less complicated than before, and had become even less specific--going from frustration at the state of the world to vague, half-formed expressions of dread. And the music was noticeably faster, more frantic. James had already indicated his mastery of near-blasting one-two-one-two beats with plenty of frantic snare rolls thrown in for punctuation, but on this EP it seemed like these beats were all he played (other than the occasional pause). Albert Menduno's bass playing continued to have tinges of melody to it, but Clay's guitar playing was bare-bones, focusing on a few chords to run together at lightning speed. Occasional harmonics or arpeggios appeared, but disappeared again so quickly that you could never be quite sure you heard them.
The EP begins with "The Mission", one of the longer, more fully-formed songs to appear on it. It starts with a sort of miniature fanfare--CRASH! CRASH! went the guitars and cymbals, then after a second, CRASH! CRASH! again. Then they're off, playing at lightning speed as Clay screams, "Please stop! Oh God, stop! Before something breaks! Something's got to give!" His voice cracking, he sounds like an unwitting passenger on a vehicle traveling faster than he could handle, howling for his life as he's swept up in the relentless forward motion of it all. Other than a chorus that consists of the opening CRASH-CRASH fanfare played much faster, the entire song flies by in a blur, derailing into some quiet between song noise that sounds like band rehearsal tapes; these recur throughout the EP and sometimes, snatches of songs that appear elsewhere on the record can be heard playing quietly between songs.
The frantic forward motion continues throughout the EP. "Acceptance", which ends side one, has an interesting twist on it; it starts with a slightly slower instrumental intro riff that quickly speeds up to the record's standard frantic speed. Clay's vocals don't make an appearance at all for the first half of the song, only showing up when the music quiets down, and he begins to speak, quietly: "If I survive only long enough to escape, then I have survived long enough," he says. His voice and the music backing it grow even quieter as he repeats the line, reaching the calmest point on the entire EP just in time to hear the depressing punchline: "But I know I won't escape." Everything slams back in full-force after he finishes this line, and he starts screaming over the music, but whatever he's saying, it's not on the lyric sheet. Incoherent venting of frustration? Perhaps. If so, it's the only incoherent point in all of Mohinder's catalog, which fits--as mentioned earlier, Clay's existential terror is not the reaction of an incoherent animal, but that of an intelligent human being who is aware enough to realize just how fucked up and unjust the world is, but also to know that he is entirely powerless to change it.
"The Static Cult", which begins side two, contains the only real hope of the EP. "We reach up because there is so much to be captured," Clay screams over the opening verse. "We are undefined. We disguise ourselves as static." At this point, he may be talking about the sort of music that he and the rest of Mohinder are making, but it isn't clear. And really, it isn't important--anyone who has ever felt like they were trying to carve out a life independent from the pressures of society to conform, fit in, and obey will understand what he's getting at here. And they'll probably feel the same visceral charge I feel when they hear the next line of the song. Before it's delivered, the rhythm section drops out and Clay strums a chord by himself for a second before also stopping. In the brief pause in the music, he screams, "And we're alive!" The thrill I feel when I hear him scream this is indescribable and unmistakable. It's easy to forget sometimes, but it's true--we're alive. And that's enough of a reason to hope.
To some extent, though, hopes are dashed by the next song, "Beautiful". It's the shortest non-instrumental song Mohinder recorded, and it has very short, straightforward lyrics. In the hands of another songwriter, this lyric might have read like a love letter, but from Clay Parton, it's bittersweet at best. "I love you," he screams. "You're beautiful." Then the drums stop, the guitar and bass both feed back, and Clay says over the short break, "Soon it will be too late, but now at least you know." It's something you can imagine one person saying to another just before a bomb explodes and kills them both. It's both tragic and, indeed, beautiful. It's heartbreaking.
The EP, and Mohinder's career, both end with "Expiration". If anything, this song is even slightly faster than the other uniformly frantic tracks that appear here, and once again, this fits with Clay's lyrics. "Of that kind," he screams, "I figure we don't have time." Time is indeed drawing short, and the band rushes through the song before closing with an inversion of the fanfare that opened "The Mission"--twice repeating an 8-measure riff that's really just the same chord being chugged over and over with slight variations in the drum pattern.
This wasn't really the end, though--I was stoked to find out that, in 1996, a while after they'd broken up, a comp was released with a Mohinder song on it. That song turned out to be "In Memory Of A Stranger", a long, slow, quiet instrumental that sounded nothing like anything else Mohinder ever recorded and released. This was somewhat of a letdown, although it added an interesting layer to my perception of Mohinder. Another layer was added a couple of years later when the Mohinder discography LP was issued by GSL and came packaged with a bonus live CD. The LP had its imperfections, most notably in the complete destruction of the sequence of the Gravity Records EP; it began with several minutes of the rehearsal tapes that had previously played quietly inbetween songs, then started the actual EP with "Expiration", put "The Mission" somewhere in the middle, "Beautiful" directly before "The Static Cult" instead of directly after, and ended the side with "Alien". To me, the sequencing of that EP had a great deal to do with its overall impact, and I'm always going to be a little sad to know that those who discovered Mohinder through the discography won't get to hear that EP the way it originally sounded.
The bonus CD, however, more than made up for it. It contained two live sets, one short and muddily recorded one from early in their career, featuring a couple of songs that had never made it to any of the studio recordings, and a much better one from almost the very end of their career. This second one is 26 minutes long, features 14 songs, and again, reveals a layer of Mohinder's sound that I'd previously been unaware of. Beginning with several minutes of strange, quiet, almost jazzy noodling around, the transition into an actual Mohinder song is less like a conscious decision to start playing it than a gradual flowing together of disparate elements that suddenly coalesce to form a song. This happens often throughout the set--beginnings and endings of songs are improvised and stretched out, and at one point, what sounds at first like between-song noodling comes together into the main riff from "In Memory Of A Stranger", a song I'd always figured had been thrown together in the studio on the spur of the moment. As it turns out, this and other brief instrumental snatches had an established place in Mohinder's live set, and were just as much a part of what they did as a band as were their typical terrified, frenetic whirlwinds of song. They finish the set with "Expiration", and when they reach its closing fanfare, instead of playing that 8-measure chug riff twice, they keep playing it over and over, for over a minute, until eventually Albert is the only one left playing. Even after he stops, the live recording goes on for another minute or two of directionless noise, as if whoever had recorded the set was unsure of when the performance had actually stopped. Considering that the songs don't so much start and stop as seem to emerge out of and disappear back into a swirling fog of sound, I can understand why it would have been hard to distinguish. Listening to this recording makes me wish I could have seen Mohinder play, as there was obviously a lot more to them as a band than was ever captured in the studio. But at least I have these recordings to make that clear.
Mohinder - The Static Cult
Mohinder - The Mission
Mohinder - Acceptance