Playing on Prefix is a feature on KCRW’s Music Blog in which writers from the eclectic music site Prefix hip you to what’s coming out of their computer speakers each week
The last band I wrote about for Playing on Prefix was the Parting Gifts and, at the risk of painting myself into a garage-rock corner, this time around I’m waxing (somewhat) poetic about Mind Spiders, the garage-punk project from Texas-based Mark Ryan.
I’ve been coming back to this record again and again since its release in late January, and it’s just as raucous and infectious the 50th time around as it was on the first listen.
Ryan’s old band the Marked Men was part of the Dirtnap Records roster and went on hiatus in 2010 after kicking ass in and around Denton, Texas, for eight years. Nowadays, the members are pursuing various side projects, and Mind Spiders is essentially a solo affair despite the fact that Ryan has filled the lineup with ghosts of his former projects, Wax Museums and Bad Sports.
Mining the garages of times past for inspiration is certainly nothing new, as the steady stream of lo-fi bands filling festivals and showing up on music blogs prove.
But Mind Spiders is a step ahead of most of these bands in the sense that Ryan chooses tropes from a variety of genres: wiry post-punk, elements of ’60s garage rock, and psychedelic sound bites. Nevertheless, Spiders’ toolkit leans heavily on loud guitars, drums, bass and three-chord progressions — the kind of assemblage that often incurs variations on the criticism “all these songs sound the same.” Granted, that’s sometimes true when it comes to this kind of music. But the output of Mind Spiders is a crash-course on how to do right by garage punk.
For one, they keep it short. The longest song on “Mind Spiders” is just shy of four minutes, with three of the numbers clocking in under two minutes. With a limited palette and a sound that’s especially dependent on the listener feeling tangible energy emanating from the music, it’s important to apply the “live fast, die young” principle to your songwriting. “No Romance,” a one-two punch of ringing guitars and snotty vocals, is probably the best example of Mind Spiders’ ability to put this into practice.
Ryan also has an ear for elements that make a good pop song. Though these tunes are undeniably punk, they’ve got hooks for miles and boast attributes that appeal to a variety of musical tastes. “Going Away Tonight” shows off the band’s radio-ready chops particularly well, as does a cover of Little Richard’s “Slippin’ and Slidin‘,” where Ryan sounds like a deadringer for Marc Bolan.
“Mind Spiders” is a great showcase of Ryan’s ability to trim the fat off a song and let its most basic elements shine. It’s a collection of songs that’s satisfying in the same way reading authors with a knack for economy of words is satisfying. And in a world where technology allows indie rockers unlimited orchestral opulence, bands that keep it Hemingway sound all the more refreshing.
- By Susannah Young