by Jo Higgs
Voices in dystopia. Dan Hyndman of Mush on his band’s noisy backlash against creeping dread, and always pushing forward
As far as album release cycles go, the precedent has been set as being mired in the absurd for the Leeds’ post-punk-adjacent, Mush. Early 2020 saw the acclaimed release of their debut, 3D Routine, but, as we all know, then came a rather destructive stick-in-the-spokes in the form of a pandemic. A mere couple of days before the first anniversary of their debut comes Lines Redacted – a startling project that somewhat warps the mould of 3D Routine: violently jagged guitar lines and sharply-spat sardonicism are abundant across both records (and the EPs in between), but there’s a marked instrumental and thematic maturity evident in the upcoming release.
The band’s singer, Dan Hyndman, recognises that while 3D Routine is ‘a collection of songs that have all been knocking around for a couple of years,’ which explains its relative thematic disparity, Lines Redacted is ‘the product of a certain time and space, which is probably why the lyrics have much more of a concentrated feel to them.’
‘Obviously, the kind of mood that was going on at the time like the lockdown was dominating a lot of my headspace – working from home and having news rolling in the background 24/7 was just driving me a bit mad,’ he says. Naturally, living through a global crisis while situated in a country in which the leaders’ incompetence seeps out of their pores like germs out the gob of an anti-masker, leads one to think in rather dystopian terms.
The title track and the album closer are explicitly linked to the wonderful piece of abstract art on the album cover. Martyn Hill’s painting shows dirty grey tones that are dashed across by bold blackout lines – emulating the censoring of a sensitive document. With a band as politically attuned, but simultaneously disaffected as Mush, there is no slap-dashing of album covers: it’s all very deliberate. Hyndman says, ‘I wanted to accentuate the movie-esque dystopian shit of now and have a document that analysed the history of our current state, but from a future perspective through the lens of the misinformation people would’ve been fed about it. Lines Redacted is the misinformation – the media’s sanitation of what we see; Lines Discontinued is more of an emotional reaction to the situation.’ One might assume that such information control would be influenced by every twitter user’s favourite oft-incorrectly applied faux-intellectual reference: Orwell’s 1984. But Hyndman laughs admitting, ‘it’s embarrassing, but I’ve never read 1984. It’s an incredibly weird blind spot because I fucking love dystopian literature, but it’s the one I’ve just never read. I think to some extent just because of how often it’s referenced, I know it fairly well and so just haven’t gotten round to it.’
Across the album, it isn’t only the title track and its sister song that brood upon these stark ideas. There is a constant switching of narrative voice that usually conveys a similar anticipation of misery. One humorous twist on all this is the ironic-patronisation of Positivity in which Hyndman goads us with cheerful calls of ‘clap clap clap positivity.’ The track is a haunting hark back to when the entire nation worked together to feed overworked and underpaid NHS’ staff with nutritious and tasty sentiments. This was no doubt sitting in the forefront of Hyndman’s mind as it was during this period of surrealism and the Eat Out To Help Out era that the band were able to get together at their local studio and work on the project. Another of the more ‘on-the-nose’ tracks, as Hyndman puts it, is Hazmat Suits. Reminiscing he says, ‘I was a bit hesitant to put a song called Hazmat Suits on the record in the middle of a pandemic, but we liked the production and how it was in the end. I think the label would’ve been a bit pissed off if we didn’t put it on. Retroactively, I was listening to it like “aww yeah, fuck me, this record really needed a pop tune!”’ Hyndman goes on to mock his own apparent inability to recognise radio-friendly songs. ‘I always make the mistake of thinking the least accessible tunes are the most accessible ones. I have such a bad track record with that, so I’m staying out of single discussions in the future. Every time I pick one out, people just react like “what in the fuck are you talking about.’’’
Perhaps the most distinct sonic difference between Lines Redacted and the band’s previous efforts is the great variety of guitar sounds floating and tearing across the twelve tracks. From the enveloping warm fuzzes of Blunt Instruments to the twistingly hypnotic reverb on Bots!, there is a discernible effort to shift things about and tickle all sonic avenues conceivable. Hyndman comments, ‘to an extent, I think 3D Routine was kind of what we wanted to do within the limitations of what we could do. Lines Redacted was during a period of time I wasn’t going into work, so I had far more time to just in a practical sense sit down and work really hard and get meticulous.’
Similarly, as minor an aspect of a record as it might be to many, Hyndman was really enthusiastic about having had the time to sit in for the whole process with Lee Smith and Jamie Lockhart – both of Green Mount Studios: ‘We’ve done a lot with them now, so they know the agenda and there’s a mutual understanding and a language, which saves so much time.’ The result is evident of the aforementioned meticulosity as guitars and bass swoop in from left to right and back again – taking advantage of stereo-mixing techniques that are surprisingly under-employed in contemporary guitar music.
Going forward Hyndman is excited for what Mush have to come. He’s already written enough material for another album, but isn’t getting through the lyrics quite as quickly. ‘Things haven’t changed too much, so I’m conscious of not doing Lines Redacted mark two. The music is easy to push on with, but now I’m beginning to feel the effect of not having had much visceral experience like going out, and, obviously, the political landscape is still the same.’ With the bittersweet potential for having to get back to the day job in a healthier world, as well as the tragic loss of their guitarist and close friend, Steven Tyson, there are some logistics to be worked out for the band, but they’re keen to push on. Hyndman reckons what comes next from them ‘will be more instrumentally and melodically like Lines Redacted, but maybe with more of the loose jazziness of 3D Routine.’
Once Lines Redacted is out, the wider Mush fandom, and undoubted newcomers, will have their need for political satire and jaggy grooves satiated for a good while before the band come back with another undoubtedly astounding and acerbic offering.
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