- Mad Mesa, Crev
(Eneekay Records, digital)
Lyndon's Mad Mesa have taken being a college rock band to another level. The three-piece outfit not only formed at Northern Vermont University, it also released its debut EP Crev on the NVU student-run label, Eneekay Records.
Students enrolled in Record Label Practicum courses in the university's Music Business and Industry program recorded, mixed and produced the album.
Unlike typical DIY recordings by college bands, Mad Mesa's first release is a crisp, well-recorded collection of classic rock and blues-infused songs that do more than simply show promise.
Opener "Sitting in the Silence" kicks the record off with a slinky, stop-stutter guitar lick that wouldn't be out of place on any Pearl Jam deep cut. Vocalist Cece Jones has a voice well suited to blues-rock, with equal parts smooth and gritty delivery that carries youth and gravitas. It's reminiscent of Ani DiFranco's signature tone, though Jones has some sneaky pop sensibilities in her melodies, as well.
It's not a particularly memorable song, unfortunately. That's the danger of treading too deeply into the waters of emulating retro sounds. It's not that the format is bad, but it's difficult to make original music stand out within that timeworn framework. Mad Mesa are a capable rock band, but at times they can sound like 1,000 other capable rock bands.
"What's on Your Mind" is a better representation of the band's potential. Guitarist Cormac Waters and drummer Caleb Marsh lock into a silky groove, flashing hints of country rock with airtight dynamics. "I never sleep well alone, my dear / Would you hold me a little longer / Just until my fears and worries fade into obscurity," Jones implores. It's a song about the drive to understand and connect with the people we love, and Jones successfully taps into that emotional space with vocals that are hushed and intimate one minute, soaring and plaintive the next.
The final song on Crev, "My Eyes," is another blues-rock number, complete with subtle organ swells at the chorus. Jones' vocal work shines again, as does Waters' tasteful, every-note-counts guitar solo. Mad Mesa are a young band, but they already display an understanding of space, that ever-elusive thing also known as having a good feel.
Crev clocks in at under 12 minutes, a bite-size portion of what the band offers. The record serves as a solid introduction and is a win for the program at NVU. College rock is synonymous with stories of scrappy young bands that either catapult themselves into another city or flame out spectacularly. Who knows what the future holds for Mad Mesa, but three talented college musicians were able to use their education and resources to write, perform and produce a very good-sounding record. That, in and of itself, is a wonderful development.
Crev is available on Spotify.