How often do you come across a pop album that strives to be as much about architecture, city planning, and sustainable energy sources as it is about the normal standbys of rock n’ roll (i.e. sex, relationships). And yet that’s just what Connectivity!, the long-delayed new full-length from Brooklyn-based octet Mahogany, aspires towards.
Plenty of bands over the years have derived inspiration from any number of cities (New York, Berlin, Los Angeles, Hollywood), but Mahogany seems less interested in conveying the hustle and bustle of any one city. Or, for that matter, of any one “real” city. Rather, their shimmering sounds attempt to encapsulate the hustle and bustle of those gleaming, futuristic metropolises that only seem to exist in sci-fi movies and animé.
A shimmering cityscape of neon-coated steel spires and glass tubes serves as Connectivity!‘s backdrop, one built higher and higher with each layer of gauzy guitar, icy synth, or wispy vocal that the group piles into Connectivity!‘s 11 songs. However, even as they’re singing the praises of stunning urban vistas (the Stereolab-meets-Pet Sounds “Neo-plastic Boogie-woogie”), Mahogany always return to the heart in the midst of the towers, painting surprisingly intimate portraits of fragile humanity amidst the skyscrapers and public transportation. Which imbues their often icily-spiraling electronica/shoegazer sounds with a certain warmth.
After all, even the most impressive cities, architecture-wise, are ultimately collections of human beings and their hopes, dreams, and heartaches. And in their playfully cryptic lyrics — which land somewhere between Lansing-Dreiden and Sufjan Stevens — Mahogany peels back the architecture to reveal the human heart beating at the core of their pristine burg.
In “Tesselation,” the band sings of young families buffeted by cold autumn winds that whip through subway stations, painting a portrait of fragile humans trapped within impersonal walls — even as they acknowledge that the human spirit must ultimately override human know-how (“City building knows no end/It’s we who must begin”). “Renovo” is one of the album’s more subdued tracks, its lyrics striking up an almost contemplative tone: “Spring allows us to sense/Invisible and immense… Can you find the edge/Of this vast and complex land?/Even then, it won’t compare/To our strange and mental sands.”
All of this introspection leads to “My Bed Is My Castle,” an almost frighteningly personal, reaching out to one lonely inhabitant of Mahogany’s radiant city. “Oh Joie, don’t you know she self-maligns/She dreams of suicide/And all the different ways to hide in curtained rooms,” the group’s ghostly vocals sigh, while a wispy female voice drones “Key the sequence/Key the sequence in.”
A tale of soul-crushing tedium, of a poor unfortunate fallen between the sidewalk cracks? Why not? Even in an album that concerns itself with perfect urban planning, some folks are bound to be lost. Which is why the final track, “Springtime, Save Our Country” is perhaps so important. Even with all of its glories, the band leaves the city far behind, opting instead for “threshing cotton… down the valley below” and ending the song with the triumphant thought “In time, the blight will subside” as a glorious guitar melody closes things out.
Of course, it’s possible to read too much into Connectivity!, though it’s arguable that the band’s playfully, sing-song lyrics gives the listener too much imagery and wordplay to not do just that. But even if you don’t feel like giving a single thought to the group’s lyrics, the sonics are fine enough to enjoy by themselves. The band’s sounds recognize a number of expected influences — Cocteau Twins, Wire, Stereolab, Tortoise, The Beach Boys — while, thankfully, not really sounding like any of them (though “Neo-plastic Boogie-woogie“ ‘s handclaps and vocal arrangements could only have come from Brian Wilson).
Just don’t be too surprised, however, if during the album’s course, all of those glittering synths and shimmering guitars don’t have you seeing sunsets glinting off steel spires, or glimpsing serpentine monorails weaving their way through and above glass-encrusted malls and plazas, as well.
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I've also written for Christ and Pop Culture, ScreenAnarchy, Filmwell, and Christian Research Journal. I pay the bills by creating beautiful user interfaces and websites for Firespring and Red Bicycle.