“I’m your New York City woman/ You’re my New York City man,” goes the refrain of Mind Fair‘s “Take Me to the Bridge”, a kinda Fleetwood-Mac-gone-disco single the duo released this summer in anticipation of their debut LP. Those words may be true for guest vocalists Charmaine Baines and Lauren Faulkner, but it’d definitely be a stretch to call Dean Meredith and Ben Shenton “New York City men.” And that disconnect, of course, is part of the great charm of the Mind Fair project, in which two Brits do their damnedest to pass as Americans. And not just any Americans, but Downtown disco denizens of the 1980s—with a ragged Woodstock freak flag dangling from their back pockets, for good measure.
A quarter-century ago, Meredith was a member of Bizarre Inc., a British acid house act that briefly served as an intermediary between the rave scene and the pop charts. Since then, he has spent most of his career pushing in the opposite direction—not following electronic music’s progress into the future so much as burrowing back towards a mythical, prelapsarian moment, pre-rave culture, when disco and electronics and dub collided for the first time. If the search for the wellspring of soulful electronic dance music is something of a fool’s errand, perhaps that explains why he’s come at it from so many angles: the dubbed-out disco of his group Chicken Lips; the even dubbier, On-U-influenced Big Two Hundred; the Italo-flavored White Light Circus; and a dozen other bands and aliases, many with the same small handful of associates, like Andrew Meecham, Steve Kotey, and Ben Shenton.
In the past three years, Mind Fair have released nearly a dozen singles or EPs of woozy, nostalgic dance music, post-disco and proto-house. They established the outlines of their sound on their very first single: at one end, the loosey-goosey disco of “Kerry’s Scene”, complete with copious piano riffing and live electric bass; at the other end, the unplugged, back-porch blues of “Mind Fair”, complete with harmonica and acoustic guitar. With Mind Fair, their debut album, they dial up the rock quotient and really let their hair down. The album sounds like the product of a week locked in someone’s apartment, fueled by tequila and mushrooms, and while it’s unclear exactly who did what—along with their own machines and electric bass, the album credits a handful of musicians for percussion, ukulele, and vocals—it scans as a joyful ruckus, a communal frenzy.
After an introduction of organ grind and fun-fair clang, they dive straight into the fray with “Green Fingers”, a pulse-raising fusion of late-’70s disco/rap percussion—extra-dry drum-machine patterns overlaid with rolling congas—and searing acid rock guitars. It’s reminiscent of Big Audio Dynamite and, even more so, James Blood Ulmer’s 1984 single “Eye Level”, in which the jazz/funk/blues guitarist was accompanied by the Pop Group drummer Bruce Smith and On-U producer Adrian Sherwood. “So Morose” is another blues-heavy number, this time with a far cleaner hook and a one-note bassline, plus some organ riffing in the background. It’s one of the album’s most focused grooves, and one of its best, with a real first-thought-best-thought immediacy to it. Venturing further out, “Deutsche Bag” drizzles tautly plucked guitar and a misty layer of Frippertronics over declarative tuned toms, with distant chants and the odd splash of organ adding faint tone color. As it goes on, the tonal center just disappears. It’s not often you find a club track that’s so unafraid to go for broke. Depending on the dosage in the punch, it’s not hard to imagine it reducing the dancefloor to a writhing mass, naked and speaking in tongues.
Given the jam-oriented structures and the limited tonal palette, one’s appreciation for the record will have a lot to do with one’s predisposition for bluesy electric guitar over shuddering drum machines. “Cursed” repurposes the trills of Cymande’s “Bra” over a “Rapper’s Delight”-inspired break and piles on ukulele and harmonica; “U Got the Lovin'” adds some flute to the mix. But there’s enough variety to keep things interesting. “Voodoo Train”, with its wordless chants and grunts and mewls over oodles of rolling hand percussion, evokes Arthur Russell and Matias Aguayo. “Neon Carnival”, with its clean-lined synth arpeggios and clipped sax bleats, revisits Chicken Lips’ groove-heavy stomping ground. “Mushroom Blues”—the title is pretty much a dead giveaway—rolls out the acid-rock guitars over a “Wax the Van”-style groove, pretty much as good a way to close the album as any. Before that, the bass-and-guitar counterpoints of “Find Me at the Fair” sound a hell of a lot like Minutemen, and when’s the last time you could say you heard their influence in a dance record?
The one thing that feels missing is a proper singer. Despite the presence of four credited vocalists, those vocals never play a central role—which is fine. But given the jammy, freeform qualities of their playing, Mind Fair could stand to have the occasional element to pull it all together. The melodic hook was what made “Take Me to the Bridge” so indelible. But give ’em time; theirs is a New York of the mind, rent-controlled and immune to gentrification. Nobody’s going to be forcing them out any time soon.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1tOrJnu