MPG – A Message To Those Listening – Album Review
From what I’ve heard, seen and read about the music of solo-artist MPG, there’s a lot to be admired about the earnest and honest approach he’s taken towards his writing and career. For instance…and many of you out there know this is true already but for those that don’t – I was born in a different generation where things like LINER-NOTES in an album MATTERED. Well…even more truthfully, they didn’t just MATTER to me…they were pretty much the only thing I read cover-to-cover growing up. When you have a chance to look through the notes on MPG’s new album, A Message To Those Listening when it’s officially released on April 8th of this year – be sure to check’em out; I can tell you firsthand from previewing this record that the work has truly been put in to make this an artistic/electro experience you’re bound to remember for plenty of good reasons. For those of us out there that know the value of liner-notes…this is pure-gold – not only do you get something excellent to listen to, you get actual insight into the mindset and inspiration behind each and every song. Everything about the way it looks and is displayed in its presentation completely appealed to me…the title of the record certainly did as well – A Message To Those Listening…you know I always like to consider myself to be one of those…
How incredibly interesting it was to read about the choice MPG made in opening the new record with “Morning Moments!” Considering that this has been a hot-button topic on the last couple of episodes of the SBS Podcast and talking about what to do with that song you’re not entirely sure fits with the record…it made for an extremely microscopic evaluation of the idea of opening the record with what is potentially somewhat the ‘leftover’ idea. In all the scenarios we kicked out from bonus-inclusions to separate single releases…we never once theorized the idea of taking what could potentially be cut and placing that as the opening track on the album! As it was a topic completely fresh in my mind still, “Morning Moments” got my attention immediately in examining what decision I may or may-not have made in MPG’s place…I understand the theory behind why it’s been chosen to lead off the record, but in truth after listening to the rest of A Message To Those Listening…I’d probably stick with my assessment that I’ve had on the show. Even in the best of scenarios…even if it’s the best song ever…in my opinion, if the rest of the album seems to really hit a cohesive vibe and thread, you’re probably best to save it for another time. It’s only by comparison to the rest of the material on this record that we eventually know this – as an opening track and first impression, there’s no doubt about the bright and sunny electro-impact “Morning Moments” makes…but then you also have to recognize that what’s upfront in the first moments of this record also quickly morphs into something arguably more powerful emotionally, more artistic, more challenging and more cohesively threaded together in its flow from that first song’s conclusion forward. Something to consider in the great debate over what to do with that ‘extra’ song. There is however, a wide range of emotions and expressions all throughout this entire album…it’s possible that it could exist maybe somewhere more closely after a song like “Exciting Things Are Happening” later on and sound more natural and organic within the framework of the record…hard to say. I have a feeling the synth-banjo led melody and bright cheeriness of “Morning Moments” would stand-out no matter where it was placed within this particular record…which leads me to believe that MPG’s first assessment of “Honestly I’m not sure if this song fits with the rest of the album” to be correct. That being said, he also goes on to say “but I’m really proud of it (like I am with all songs on this album) and thought it would be a nice ‘warm-up track’” – also correct to a degree in my opinion…the energy is enthusiastic & positive and welcomes us to the sound of MPG…every reason to be proud of the way the song came out sounding – the inclusion on this record is the only question you might have surrounding “Morning Moments” – the debate continues! I would have probably gone with “Stardust Warriors” myself…but we’ll get to that soon enough…
So in my mind…in a sense…in a way…A Message To Those Listening began with “Life Within You” instead. Not discounting the quality of “Morning Moments” in idea, performance or production – but eventually after repeat listens, the album quickly begins to dig into deeper, more meaty emotions and some seriously magical moments along the way…it reveals that cohesiveness that exists between the other nine tracks essentially, as it plays. Guest-star Scarlett Rose does a great job of bringing MPG’s words to life on this cut…and once again reading the liner-notes, you’d figure that these lyrics might be missing the mark; as it turns out, it’s just the frantic humbleness expressed by a dude that needs to give himself a bit more credit as the exceptional writer he truly is. You’ll find a few other cuts on this record that will draw on vocalizations and additions of sorts – but in terms of full-on singing, this is the one track that has a vast amount of lyrics to go with Rose’s voice. Again – have a read-over the lyrics yourself when you get the album on April 8th…you’ll see these aren’t just kind words but deserved ones; MPG has written poetically, insightfully and with beautiful expressions & intentions…they’re truly as wonderful to read as they are to hear out loud from Rose’s gorgeous & confident tones on “Life Within You.” The attitude and movement of the music is vibrant and echoes the sentiments of the lyrics as perfectly as you could ask for…Scarlett rolls through the vocals with precision, professionalism and an inviting sound to her voice that delivers on all the emotions expressed in the lyrics like she really felt those words – thumbs-up to this collaboration for sure.
But okay…”Stardust Warriors” – I mean…I’m not the only one that hears the next-level MPG breaks through to here right? Anyone that’s spent a moment loving their video-game soundtracks or music like Postal Service or Faded Paper Figures…you’ll fall in love with this track as quickly as I did. What’s NOT genius about this song? No seriously…I’m asking. If there’s something I’ve missed, let me know…as far as I can tell, “Stardust Warriors” absolutely works insanely well from its beginning to its final moments and all the way through in between. The electro rhythm, melody and resulting groove on this cut is extraordinary! I’ll fully admit that I could happily listen to this one song alone for a full-day on repeat and never feel the need to turn it off – “Stardust Warriors” hits the mark from every angle with insightful sounds and productions…even when you think it can’t/won’t get any better, the final minute still finds another subtle addition to really bring this song home entirely. Nothing to complain about here as far as I can hear…this is purely melodic electro audio-enjoyment from the lefts & rights at its finest and a fantastic burst of energy into the early stages of A Message For Those Listening.
The opening of “Who We Are” definitely has the magic you’re looking for and starts everything about this cut off in the right direction. Smartly assembled and edited by MPG…I’m all about the uplifting energy I found in the inspirational tones of “Who We Are.” Using the right amount of ingredients is key here – MPG understood clearly that to bring this one alive needed only to lean on the strength in each individual part of the melody as the song comes to its ultimate inclusivity. The background melodies are just as strong as the ones in the forefront and have incredible texture and tone building the atmosphere at a perfect pace to its structure. Cleverly adding in spoken-word vocals from a clip from MissJudged that speak on how music makes us “Who We Are” – between “Stardust Warriors” and the stunning execution in this follow-up tune right afterwards…it’s clear that the album is on a serious roll with these two back-to-back and intensely imaginative in the choices being made by MPG.
I had mentioned “Exciting Things Are Happening” in relation to the opening track “Morning Moments,” which is largely to do with the overt amount of sunshine added into these two ideas. You could argue that a track like “Stardust Warriors” or many of these still have enough brightness in their melodies to support these two happier atmospheres being on the record, but for me they both sat right on that fine-line of being perhaps TOO sweet for the rest of the songs on the album by comparison. Don’t get me wrong…not knocking this melody as it stands once again – just saying it was right on that threshold of fitting into the grand-scheme of this album’s overall sound, styles and atmospheres…and at the end of the day, I felt like this tune belonged personally. The main-hooks in the music act nearly like words themselves and really jump right out of the speakers on this cut…wasn’t completely sold on the coming back at an octave or two for that final run through the brightest parts of “Exciting Things Are Happening” but I did really dig-on the way it breaks down to its ending. I’ve listened to this a bunch…vocals from Shok are listed on this track and the last in the credits…but short of the whistling sounds…which I think are synthetic anyway…I’m not sure if I know where they exist here?
I could continue to scour and examine that…but it might be a misprint…secondly, once “Miscalculation” begins right afterwards, I pretty much can’t think of anything else anyhow! This jam really MOVES; the energy is at maximum intensity with its rumbling, thunderous percussion and crisp snare sounds…the layers of melodies woven overtop are pure genius. It’s those drums that really get this train pulling out of the station quickly – but it’s the melodies interwoven over-top of that beat that really keep it driving forward at full-speed. Really clever combinations and mix on this song allow each part to really breathe and reach its maximum potential…and even in the thickest of moments, each element has strong clarity to add to the most intense parts of this tune. “Miscalculation,” at least to me, seems to have a distinct influence of the post-punk classics like The Cure or Joy Division within its sound and atmosphere…only played at about 5x the speed that either of those comparisons ever played a song at. But there’s a seriousness…or…some added drama…maybe some franticness…anxiety expressed perfectly in music; call it what you will or compare it to what you like – there’s no doubt in my mind that “Miscalculation” would likely be a highlight for many people listening to A Message For Those Listening.
The end description of the lead-single “Lull” in the liner-notes says it all: “Sometimes I listen to this and think ‘did I really make that?’” For what it’s worth…reading the liner-notes to this point already will confirm this comment doesn’t come from some part of the ego, but rather from genuine humbleness, awe and wonder that MPG has when it comes to making music. Also for what it’s worth – I completely feel the same way about this song and 100% feel like I absolutely understand what would lead him to feel the way he does about “Lull.” As much as I try to not ever select one particular song as the immaculate highlight of any one album…sometimes we get caught in a trap whereby a song will speak so strongly for itself that you can’t help but notice it connected to you even stronger than the rest. This is one of those times…”Lull” is about as audibly-fantastic of an instrumental atmosphere as you’ll ever be privileged enough to hear in one lifetime…it is STUNNING. In a sense, it’s also somewhat of an equal-sized departure from what may be the sounds you’ll be expecting on the album at this point…but I think the placement is perfect for a shift in energy on the record and there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that this track hits the mark on every level. In a word…magnificent. In two, I’d add majestic. There’s something big, bold and entirely beautiful about the sound of “Lull” – its every movement and subtle evolution increases the amount of sparkling, crystalline tones in the atmosphere and never once overfills this moment in a way that would snap you out of the world you’ve entered into and back into your own. You stay with EVERY second of this tune…it’s completely captivating and entirely amazing – don’t just take MY word for it, do yourself a FAVOR and check it out for yourself below!
I immediately liked the production values on “Skeleton Crew” – but as quite often can happen with such an incredible, stand-out piece of music coming just before it with “Lull,” it is TOUGH to get back into the up-tempo rhythm and groove of “Skeleton Crew.” MPG really pulls the vocal-card sparingly on the songs he’s used them on…but you notice the added energy from the vocals in the electro-swing-heavy hypnotic-melody of this one more. I’ll say this…I think “Skeleton Crew” has the toughest spot to fill on the entire record in its current layout and I think it might potentially cost the experience a bit – but…I also think there’s a bit of an in-your-faceness to the main piano-melody that also borderlines on either too-repetitive or potentially grating by the end. Even with the break from it in the middle of the song…I felt like each part really added something maybe too similar in its style…like each element is competing for top-spot with the same intent and ideas somehow. A close listen of course reveals the difference between each part of the rhythm & melody contributing to this tune…but I suppose “Skeleton Crew” fell a little short of the mark for me overall…not a bad tune, just not my favorite…and coming after “Lull” – what can I tell ya…I’d feel for any song trying to fill the moments after such an incredible tune plays.
So…conversely…it’s kind of by that same logic that when the gentle piano notes fill the room as “One Of Those Nights” begins that I immediately latched onto this song; it’s entirely different than “Lull” of course…but there are similarities in the approach, sound and style that made this new song extremely appealing right away. “One Of Those Nights” moves at a cautious and glacial-pace…and I absolutely love it! The heavy emotions in the atmosphere contrasting with the beautiful sound of the synth-strings and uplifting piano notes that hang in the air like icicles in winter…it’s another highly crystalline and fragile moment on A Message To Those Listening that sounds insightfully focused, bold and genuine through its every moment. Notably, MPG makes incredible use of space itself in the atmosphere of “One Of Those Nights” – it COUNTS for something truly remarkable in how this one comes out overall and certainly sounds amazing as the song breaks down into its last thirty-seconds. Exceptionally beautiful…between “Lull” and “One Of Those Nights” working out so incredibly well for MPG, I’d highly encourage seeking out directions like this in the future because the grip on this style and texture of atmosphere is STRONG.
As far as the liner-notes dictate in the story behind A Message To Those Listening – the final song “Be Safe, Please” was also the final creation of the entire set. Some of our best moments of inspiration can really come throughout the process and even right at the tail end of a recording or writing project – and this last jam on the album is 100% all the proof you need of that. “Be Safe, Please” takes the energy back to a real summation of the sounds and styles we’ve heard throughout this record and raises it all up proudly on display in the swirl of energy and electro-rhythms that combine into this final song. The amount of hooks you’ll hear in the music throughout this record and the flawless structures of each song have been impressive all the way throughout…and I’ve already outlined which songs I’ve felt resonated with me the strongest…but what I hear in this final track, “Be Safe, Please” is the real potential for where MPG can go to next and think he really hit the nail on the head here right as this particular album headed to a close. As in, I’m already excited about whatever else comes next!
Really rad ideas on this record…it’s incredibly enjoyable and extremely well-made; the enthusiasm and passion for music radiates from every angle of this album in all its moods, atmospheres and wild-expressions of emotion – a serious pleasure to listen to and a highly entertaining, skillful artist.
Find the entire catalog of MPG’s tunes at his official page at Bandcamp and pre-order A Message To Those Listening at: https://mpgchiptune.bandcamp.com/
Join the thousands of bands & artists reviewed at sleepingbagstudios by clicking here!