erasing clouds

Mahogany, Memory Column

review by dave heaton

Comparing the pleasures of singles (evocative, future-looking) versus albums (substantial, rewarding patience) is tricky business. A case in point: In the late 1990s, Mahogany made their name as creators of unearthly atmospheric pop music through a few EPs and singles, the recordings' brevity no doubt fueling the mystery already inherent in their music. Yet the group's lone album The Dream of a Modern Day felt like an instant classic, in part because of the extra feeling of sustenance gained from spending quality time with a longer work, something you can really sink yourself into. In a way Mahogany's latest release, the 2-disc "early works and rarities" collection Memory Column, offers the best of both worlds. Collecting the early EP and single tracks (their half of the Dual Group 12", the What Will Become of the Key of Reason? 12") and compilation and 7" tracks from throughout their career, the release wonderfully showcases how enticing one Mahogany song standing on its own can be, while also offering us the most substantial-in-quantity Mahogany release yet. The pleasures inherent in spending a solid 2 hours of time with Mahogany's music can't be underestimated; the songs might have been released separately, but they flow together as one formidable force.

That cohesive feeling is perhaps part of the reason behind each disc getting its own credit as a song cycle ("Song Cycle No. 1 for Rural Michigan, 1997-1999), "Song Cycle No, 2 for Detroit & New York, 1999-2004"). The most analytical of listeners are likely to hear rural/urban differences in the music on the two discs: the later works are busier in nature, and often driven by a unique rhythmic energy that suggests forward motion. The songs on the first disc are the mark of a group establishing their base sound. That sound is openly reminiscent of the Cocteau Twins' all-encompassing dream-songs, nods at times in the general direction of Factory Records, and also often reminds me of a much slower, more lost-in-a-haze Stereolab...yet is also distinctly Mahogany's own. The general feeling is that of a force of nature, a stunning sound-cloud that surrounds you with an enigmatic kind of beauty, sad and sweet but also hard to pin down.

Yet the natural (or super-natural) feeling of Mahogany's music shouldn't belie the fact that the group, no matter its line-up (Andrew Prinz is the one permanent member), has a knack at carefully arranging their songs, with special attention to dynamics and to the ways that various instruments can interact. The academic-in-tone essay in Memory Column's liner notes refers to the band making an instrument "sound like an expanded super-instrument", and that seems very appropriate. In places, cello, guitar, synthesizers, and drums seemingly melt before your ears into one brilliant sound. The times when one particular instrument jumps out at you are unique (and in that regard quite magical in their own right); what you generally get is an overall sonic feeling, a sound that feels at once simple and extremely complex.

Memory Column is an appropriate title for a recording by Mahogany, as the open-ended, absorbing feeling of their music does seem likely to conjure up personal memories, dreams and feelings unique to each listener. These recordings, spanning a seven-year time period yet holding together as one quite well, all have a unique, ghostly-yet-sincere power that's versatile enough to affect each listener in a slightly different way. The news that Mahogany is releasing a new album later this year should be shouted with joy from every rooftop, as should the existence of this fantastic, complete look at the band's past.

{Mahogany fans also should note the recent release of a similar early-recordings collection by the group's like-minded contemporaries, Auburn Lull. It's called Regions Less Parallel, and was reviewed in May.}


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