We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
Fueled by its steadfast devotion to the sonic elements that defined the best indie rock of the naughty ‘90s, Mittenfields’ newly released proper debut, Optimists, quietly reveals the quintet’s emerging musical identity. It’s nuanced grown-man noise pop, replete with the standard trappings of shoegaze, anchored in a celebratory lyrical optimism that lends even the band’s moodiest musical moments a charming lightheartedness.
That’s not to say that these eight songs aren’t introspective and even confrontational at times—it’s just that Mittenfields is not interested in luxuriating in the depths of dark lyrical content. And that’s just fine: Singer Dave Mann, who co-founded the group with guitarist Sam Sherwood in 2008, boasts a near British-accented vocal honesty inspired by the likes of Pavement, Arcade Fire, and the oft-cited Built to Spill, and there’s a winking humor to his style that was only hinted at in the band’s 2011 debut EP, a The Fresh Sum.
Sum, produced by the band with Eamonn Aiken, introduced Mittenfields as a local indie-rock band worthy of some notice. But songs like Optimists’ bouncy title track, which serves as the LP’s first single, demonstrate a greater command of melody and solid hooks than what Sum offered. “We’re all optimists/even on our bad days,” sings Mann. The track launches the album into the denser “We’ve Become Numbers,” which features dynamic guitar riffs from Sherwood, Donald Seale, and Michael Ball, plus some of the album’s best lyrics: “If there is safety in numbers/catapult me towards the sky.” Mittenfields shows real growth in its use of metaphor and poetic imagery since Sum.
“Telepathic Windows” is a worthy vessel for drummer Brian Moran’s excellent percussion work and an electric guitar–fueled wall of distorted beauty, which is a perfect match for Mann’s screeching vocals at the song’s noisy conclusion. Other stand-outs include the punk-rock strut of “Goldmine” and the astonishing closer, “Surprise Me,” which lives up to its title by melding two elongated movements that both riff on themes of heartbreak and dissolution.
With Optimists, Mittenfields surpasses most of the expectations created by Sums’ success. Mittenfields doesn’t so much challenge the indie-rock zeitgeist as celebrate its aesthetic appeal. And that alone should give the band, at the very least, some rather optimistic future prospects.
Stream the album after the jump.
Mittenfields plays an album release show at the Black Cat tomorrow, April 30, with Greenland, Magnetar Flares, and Night Streets.