Album Review: Mice Parade – Candela

[Fat Cat; 2013]

Adam Pierce and the rotating cast of characters that form Mice Parade have once again drawn from the well of their own disparate influences to color the latest batch of songs under that long standing moniker. Pulling in snatches of samba, folk, and traditional indie rock, the band plows through a far ranging set of sounds in an only moderately successful bid to join them together into some sort of interconnected musical union. But unlike on previous Mice Parade records, such as 2010’s What It Means To Be Left-Handed and 2004’s Obrigado Saudade, the band seems more concerned with superficial connectivity and never really gets to the heart of their influences. It’s especially frustrating because Pierce has always had an innate ability to effectively meld whatever sounds that he and the band have been able to conjure up in the studio.

By opening the album through odd-man-out track “Listen Hear Glide Dear,” with its tremulous guitars and thumping percussion, Pierce and the band—probably without even realizing it—sets unrealistic expectations for the rest of the songs. Borrowing bits and pieces from early ’90s shoegaze and minimalist dream pop, the song explores much darker territory than any other track here. It is also one of only a handful of songs on Candela that manage to sound fully formed without ever bowing under from the weight of its own scattershot influences. The same could be said for followup “Currents,” which basks in its adoptive indie rock tones and slurs of distortion that mask the saccharine vocals of singer Caroline Lufkin. “Pretending,” riding an ear circling melody, features Pierce’s astonishingly complicated drum work, which seems fit for an hour or two of intense jazz improv. It’s a shame that this intensity rarely shows itself across the rest of the tracks. The album could have benefited from its inclusion.

From here on in, we get a fairly turgid rehash of a collection of influences that Pierce and the band have covered before and, to be honest, have handled much better on previous records. Tracks like “Look See Dream Me” and “The Chill House” lack any definable personality and seem to wander around with a few decent ideas but never the inclination to do anything with them. “The Chill House” even attempts to add in some ambient electronic touches that puts it seriously out of touch with the other songs and it just seems to sit out in front without much to do. While album closer “Warm Hand In Narnia” does manage to bring some life back into the band and the album, it’s far too little, too late. The album may be bookended by two of its best tracks but the aimless midsection keeps it from ever attaining the highs of the band’s past work.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with an artist trying to incorporate different musical approaches and genres into their already well-established sound, but in the case of Candela, Pierce and his hodge-podge set of collaborators never make these songs feel as if they belong to any particular album—least of all their own. That’s not to say that these songs are all abject failures, but the album feels like a piecemeal world music art project from someone trying to cull together a single album out of a dozen or so different records. And while it’s possible to appreciate some of the songs here on their own merits, Candela as a whole never really coalesces into something resembling a unified musical statement. As much as Mice Parade’s previous releases seemed to be insular statements, Candela is simply stretched too thin, with too little of Pierce himself in the music. In an effort to filter these various strains of populace music through the band’s own indie rock tendencies, the album suffers from a noticeable lack of clarity and a tendency to be very forgettable. With Pierce at the helm, that’s something I never thought I’d say about any Mice Parade record.