Mess Dissect the Intricacies of Intimacy on Debut Album
On Mess’ debut album, Learning How To Talk, worlds are woven and lives unraveled. Across eight rumbling post-rock songs, the Kansas City band carefully tackle the intricacies of intimacy — the violent intersection between trauma and connection, the soul-deep repercussions of internal struggle, the war of loving and losing at the same time. It’s a weighty thing to unveil so starkly and sincerely, this exploration of the things hardest to face alone, but Mess take great care to approach the record’s subject matter in a remedial way, almost, like it’s necessary. And it is.
“Writing Learning How to Talk was an interesting challenge because, even though all of the content was being pulled from my own experiences, I knew I wanted the record to have two distinct voices,” Mess’ lead vocalist and songwriter Allison Gliesman tells The Music Mermaid. “I really wanted to build these characters as people I could empathize with rather than just caricatures of myself. Through that, the record assumes an almost dialogue format, where you get both sides of the same story as the relevant timeline progresses and collapses.”
This desire to develop characters and to travel with them through their separate (and yet irrefutably entwined) journeys is what makes Learning How To Talk such a remarkable record. It is a journey in itself, but one with a birds-eye view, like we’re all looking down on the real, raw truths that unfold across the album.
Learning How To Talk opens with “Becoming,” an aptly named beginner that marks some sort of impending metamorphosis, or not even a metamorphosis but the very genesis of something. It’s weightless, built on the softest flutter of strums and a voice wafting in on winds, our first hint at the kind of ghostly beauty that Mess will share with us. On “Dead Space,” thick slaps of percussion and rhythmic twinkles meet in the distance while Allison’s breathy voice delivers lines less like lyrics than poetry. Packaged up in just three minutes, the song is over far too soon, but it acts as a solid example of Mess’ instrumental palette — tender post-rock that floats. “Cave” follows, the album’s first single that garnered heart-eyed lovers of its dreaminess. What starts off as a lush, bare-bones acoustic composition moves later into a thrash of emotive indie-rock instrumentation. The percussion maintains a steady pace, pushing and smashing beneath an increasingly robust soundscape that bridges the gray limbo of black and white. A tangled mess of sweet and sparkle and dark and edge, it’s easily one of the standouts of the album.
“Godsend” quivers. It’s dreamy and warbling at first before all of Mess’ members creep into the center, each delivering their respective talents at max power and max emotion, though the track still feels lightened by its own languishing journey. On “Drown,” Allison softly delivers some of their most gut-punch lyrics, so smoothly like they don’t realize just how bad it hurts to hear them, though of course they do, because it must hurt worse to sing them, right? In the vein of Learning How To Talk’s conceptual narrative, the song swims through layers of angsty post-rock, shimmering softness, orchestral divinity, and more, a seemingly unending odyssey of the band’s sheer sonic prowess.
On “Body Parts,” gentle guitar strums make up the whole of this stripped-back piece. It’s unbearably pretty, a fleeting taste of Mess at their most delicate. Allison tells the story of confession — of sincere apologies for not being what they once were or maybe never was — and their voice is the only one that could possibly tell it because it is beauty. Learning How To Talk crawls closer to its conclusion with “Whole Again,” the album’s most soul-crushed, stomach-kicked composition, solely for its spectral quality. It’s the longest song on the album, too, so already it takes its time, but it’s a seemingly limitless slow-burn, inching forward on minimalist post-rock melodies that hide in the shadows before jumping to life at the very end when it counts, like when Allison confesses, “you’re choking me with the parts of you / that I’ve grown too tired to love anymore,” a violent blow that leaves you breathless. Learning How To Talk ends with the too-quick “Boston,” sweet and high and — dare we say — almost hopeful (musically, at least), a tender bookend that closes out a whole album of pained exploration.
With their debut album, Mess deliver more than any of us knew we wanted. Learning How To Talk is so quietly stunning and stirring, like it’s being played from behind a curtain or maybe from inside a coffin. There are ghosts on this album, wanting and haunting, touching each song with moments of phantasmal glory, a distinct kind of magic that no band has unlocked from the ether before.
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Featured photo of Mess by Anna Selle