[Album Review] Mecca Normal- Empathy For The Evil
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by Mark Anthony Brennan
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Release Date: September 30th, 2014
Label: M’lady’s

The name Mecca Normal conjures up images of a cheesy ’80’s electropop band playing god-awful dance music with a motorik beat. Wrong! MN are actually the artsy indie duo of singer Jean Smith and guitarist David Lester, and they’ve been kicking around since (gasp) 1984. Their music centres around Smith’s lyrics and her odd vocal style. As she sings, speaks or sing-speaks her voice comes from deep in her throat in a near-warble. It’s not pretty, but it’s pretty fascinating.

Most of the songs on ‘Empathy for the Evil’ are based on two of Smith’s unpublished novels. Being the author she is, Smith is more a teller of stories than a singer of songs, with her melodies ranging from minimal to virtually non-existent. There is the one about the boy who is annoyed that his family has meals of steamed clams rather than wonderbread and tang like ‘normal’ people (“Normal”). Then there is the amusing one about two different guys that Smith dated who both had rottweilers that liked to be in the bedroom while the couple were being amorous (“Naked and Ticklish”). Lester accompanies all of the tracks with his simple but highly effective electric guitar playing which brings to mind early Billy Bragg.

For the thoughtful listener who appreciates both a good work of fiction and a nice dose of indie folk ‘Empathy for the Evil’ is the record for you. In fact, the duo’s greatness is really only limited by their own construct — the combination of Smith’s idiosyncratic vocals and Lester’s quirky guitar work tends to be a one-trick pony, no matter how good that one trick is. Another thing: despite some lighter moments, the overall mood here is sombre, so for the sake of your mental health I wouldn’t recommend you listen to the entire album in one sitting. I did once and I had to double up on my meds for two days.