If you had to pin down a sound from Northern California record label Mystery Lawn Music, you’d be hard pressed. It’s more of a feel—the influence of the mighty Pacific Ocean, the cool, redwooded mystery of the Santa Cruz Mountains, The technology nerve center of Silicon Valley, and the twin cultural capitals of San Francisco and Oakland.
Or, as our mastering engineer, Myles Boisen, puts it, “A lot of major seventh chords.”
Where else in the world can you witness the birth of life-changing technology and wander through a forest of the most ancient living things on the planet in same afternoon? It’s the meeting of ancient and new, and it’s on elegant display on the label’s first compilation: Friends & Frenemies.
Of the 18 songs on offer, more than half are exclusive or world-premiere tracks, ranging from classic indie-pop to classic rock, backwoods solo acoustic guitar work to cosmopolitan bossa-nova, a battle of electronic beats and monster drummers.
The Variable Stars (Silicon Valley) set the stage with “The Lights Above Los Gatos,” marrying cataclysmic spiritual ponderings with a call to “. . . hold hands, lay on the grass, look up at the stars.” In our hyper-polarized world, sometimes that’s all we can do.
The Incredible Vickers Brothers (Santa Cruz Mountains) make a welcome, long-awaited return with an advance track, “Faded Away” from their forthcoming 2017 album. It’s a hooky, atmospheric pop exploration for anyone who’s ever watched someone slip away who shouldn’t have: “Something’s come over you / What it’s done / Is not something I can undo.”
Sacramento’s Arts & Leisure share a tune from their freshly recorded sessions, lamenting the fact that “I can’t breathe when you’re here / I can’t breathe when you’re away.” It’s a kind of theme that continues into entries by The Flywheels (San Francisco) and My Little Hum (Oakland) where things seem to be set in motion that the singers and players have to work through in 3-minute vignettes. Look for new music from them all in the coming months.
We also get a stately, melancholic piano solo, “7” by 15-year-old composer Henry Plotnick, who appears to be channeling Vince Guaraldi and Bill Evans; and nimble mountain music from Black Butterfly Gang who paint a sonic picture of summer slipping into autumn in “It’s Like Dancing.”
And, of course, there are entries by Allen Clapp, who produced most of these tracks at his studio. Here he gives us a solo, 70s pop-soul damaged romp “Friend Collector,” as well as a brand new track by The Orange Peels: the spiraling, mantric “Square Turns to Circle” that closes the album. Clapp’s solo EP “Six Seasons” was released earlier in November 2016.
Deep cuts out of the label catalog that deserve another listen make up the rest of the collection, including songs by Marshall Holland, The Corner Laughers, Agony Aunts, Alison Faith Levy, The Paul & John, William Cleere & the Marvellous Fellas, and Flotation Device. If you ever wanted to paint one of those 70s classic rock family trees (which someone has actually gone to the trouble of making), depicting all the linkages, shared members, and outright band member theft that goes on here, you’d probably find that all these bands are made up of about 10 actual people.
Mystery Lawn Music was founded by Clapp in 2009 as a way for his long-running California band, The Orange Peels, to release their new crowd-funded album, “2020.” But as soon as the album was released, other artists began approaching him. Could they be on Mystery Lawn too?
At first, it was mostly Northern California bands that Clapp was producing at Mystery Lawn Studio. “Most musicians I’ve come across love the creative part of making an album—writing, arranging, demoing, recording—but you reach a point at the end of that process where you actually have to start thinking about how to bring this vision out into the world, and that’s a stumbling block for a lot of artists,” Clapp says.
So, Clapp began building Mystery Lawn Music, or rather, it began building itself. Soon there were half a dozen acts, and today there are nearly 20. And it’s grown beyond Northern California to include international psychedelic mad hatter Anton Barbeau (Berlin) and Midwest long-distance bossa nova champs Jim Ruiz Set (Minneapolis). In the process, it’s become a community of likeminded artists that often play shows together, swap band members, and ask each other for advice.
There are more stories behind the songs, but those yarns will be woven elsewhere. This press release is already way too long.
Friends & Frenemies is set for 11-18-16 release, and will be available on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, and very limited CD release.
Track and Artist Listing:
- THE LIGHTS ABOVE LOS GATOS*
by THE VARIABLE STARS
- FRIEND COLLECTOR*
by ALLEN CLAPP
- FADED AWAY*
by THE INCREDIBLE VICKERS BROTHERS
- CAN’T BREATHE*
by ARTS & LEISURE
- COUNTING TO ELEVEN*
by THE FLYWHEELS
- TAKE CARE OF YOU*
by MY LITTLE HUM
- LELAND MANOR
by AGONY AUNTS
- IT’S LIKE DANCING*
by BLACK BUTTERFLY GANG
- CAN’T MAKE IT WITHOUT YOU*
(MOUNT CURVE AVENUE SESSIONS)
by JIM RUIZ SET
- RAINBOW TUNNEL
by ALISON FAITH LEVY
- BROKEN IN TWO
by ANTON BARBEAU
- BLUE FLOWERS
by FLOTATION DEVICE
- SOPHIE IN THE STREETS OF STOCKHOLM
by THE CORNER LAUGHERS
- OH PLEASE
by MARSHALL HOLLAND
- HOW DO YOU LEARN TO GO ON?*
by WILLIAM CLEERE & THE MARVELLOUS FELLAS
- HOW ’BOUT THAT
by THE PAUL & JOHN
by HENRY PLOTNICK
- SQUARE TURNS TO CIRCLE*
by THE ORANGE PEELS
* PREMIER OR EXCLUSIVE TRACK
For more information on Friends & Frenemies, contact Robert Vickers at Proxy Media: firstname.lastname@example.org