When a band’s record label touts a band as “cohesive”, you can be pretty sure they’re covering something up. In the case of Mink Lungs, it’s that their first full length, The Better Button, has all the cohesiveness of wet tissue paper. It would be more accurate to say: “On an album with wildly uneven songwriting, the production alone bears the burden of overall comprehensibility. The band affects the old-time GBV style of toss-off presentation, with out-of-tune vocals, varying sound quality, and sloppy playing, and comes off precious and calculated, especially when you consider the care that went into putting whooshing whip noises and electronic gurgles all over the place.”
Brothers Gian and Tim Feleppa contribute the majority of the tunes and each produce hits and misses. Gian’s four tunes are “Remaining Loyal”, a swampy too-rural fingerpicker; “Widths and Lengths”, a tedious feature for the 4-track’s tape speed knob; “Watch Yourself”, which spoils one of the records prettier melodies with a woozy over-emoting vocal, and the odd R.E.M. homage “Silent Sex”. His singing voice has a pleasant Kermit the Frog quality, which is positively angelic compared to brother Tim’s creepy croon. Tim clocks in with the album’s best hooks, such as the guitar line in “Peep Show”, which is quite beautiful, or the melody of “Who Loves You Dear?”. But that voice is just unlistenable. I don’t know how to describe it — I keep thinking of that horrible purple dinosaur Barney, if he were boozed up and at your shoulder.
Rounding out the program are a few disrupting (even in this atmosphere) tracks from the rhythm section. Bass player Miss Frosty throws in the kitsch with the irritating “Synthesizer Baby” (two chords, a perky new wave beat, noisy sound effects and the words “It’s my synthesizer baby / It’s my synthesizer guy” over and over), the Breeders-influenced “Oscillator”, and the silly inebriated sci-fi of “Skin or No Skin”. Most odd, that one. Drummer Tom Galbraith gets his with “Snail” which sounds like Blind Melon or something.
So the songwriting’s not going to win any awards, and neither is the singing. What makes The Better Button interesting is the weird production aesthetic. It springs from the same cheeky DIY attitude that allows the uneven and self-indulgent content. To use a visual comparison, it sounds like Technicolor looks. It’s garish and unnatural, and commands attention. No one element of the production is unusual, but the parts in relation to each other make for something that sounds very different. Space Invader sounds might be prominently displayed in the mix while the drums sound like they were done with a cheap tape deck in the corner, and vocals are recorded to sound so close in the speaker that they nearly violate personal space. There’s usually one instrument that sounds much more realistic than the others, such as the fuzzy guitar on “I Sell Love”: it sounds as if it’s plugged right into your stereo.
And then there’s the weird prog theatrics of the uncredited “Demon Power of Hell”, which is essentially a feature for the production. The bad part is the tedious demonic sermon (or whatever it is). But it may be the strongest track on the disc, with it’s odd panning, (some great) drumming washing in and out of the mix, and abrupt starts and stops.
But good production does not a good record make. Maybe the next one will be more cohesive.