C’mon. We’ve all been there (and if we haven’t, this is about to get embarrassing!). Lights out, headphones on, heart rate elevated, breathing laboured. There you are, triumphant, taking the plaudits of the ecstatic audience. “Thank you Wembley (gotta think big); good night, god bless, see you next time!” And off you troop, turn the lights back on, a good evening’s work well done.
Now imagine, however, instead of being the end of the story, this scene actually marks its beginning. The band leave the stage. What next? This is the simple and rather ingenious hook which greets us at the start of Mystery’s seventh studio album, Lies and Butterflies; simple, because such an opening serves as an attention grabber, ingenious because it serves as an extremely effective tool to set the soundstage and production values for the whole album.
Mystery are synonymous for albums which sound gloriously rich and sumptuous. Having gradually become a ‘Mysteron’ since first hearing One Among the Living (2010) and a confirmed convert with the exquisite Dear Someone from The World Is A Game (2012), the one thing you can always guarantee are recordings which positively exude a beautifully clean, opulent and extravagant soundstage.
Lies and Butterflies is no exception. But what is immediately noticeable from the opening gambit, continuing seamlessly from the end of 2017’s live album Second Home, is the quite deliberate widening of the soundstage to become deeply expansive and lavishly resonant. The application of aspects of concert context recording values to a studio album is a brilliant idea that adds an extra dimension to what you are hearing.
The spacious soundstage they have managed to create as a result is crisp, transparent and spectacularly revealing. This is Jean Pageau’s second studio outing since Delusion Rain (2015) and there is no doubting the confidence and refinement he now brings to the band. The purity of the vocals are an absolute joy, as is the compelling presence and expressiveness he brings to the lyrics.
What we are also treated to is an accomplished performance which fully demonstrates the range, scale and diversity of which he is capable. The beautiful How Do You Feel (Track 3) is suffused with emotional depth and nuanced subtlety. Compare this to Something to Believe In (Track 4), for example, which is full of anthemic strength and assertive power. Pageau also contributes one of his own creations to the track list, Dare to Dream (Track 5), thrilling and dramatic in the sheer range of contrasts and transitions it manages to achieve.
Equally important and similarly enabled by the soundstage is the commanding artistry and superlative prowess of the guitar work which extends from and stands in graceful balance with the vocal work. The guitar solos are gloriously evocative, at times imperious in the way they emerge and impose themselves on the music, at times commanding simply in virtue of the deft and delicate finesse they bring to the mood and atmosphere of a song.
All this becomes possible only because of the careful foundations which provide the bedrock on which it is all constructed. Goyette’s drumming is wonderfully intricate and certainly a lot heavier, helping provide effervescent rhythms which push the music along. Fournier’s bass lines are delightful (was the really a slap bass sequence I heard?!), complex, undulating and always driving the momentum of the music along. Encompassing and enveloping it all are the layers upon layers of keyboard textures which enfold and embrace everything.
Bookending the album are two captivating and engaging monsters – Looking for Something Else (Track 1) at nearly 17 minutes and Chrysalis (Track 7) at just over 15 minutes duration. Their positioning is not accidental; together, they form quite a statement of intent. Mystery are not afraid to explore, to experiment, to innovate in expressing their musical creativity. Whatever complexity exists is neither contrived nor excessively elaborate. Whether in short form or in long form, the flow and unfolding development of the music is inherently organic and the momentum it generates as a result completely natural.
Indeed, looking over their back catalogue, this is exactly the impression you gain. Here are a close knit group of musicians who are gradually evolving, feeling comfortable with the subtle interplays and dynamics which are emerging between them and taking their time to expand, explore and feel their way forward in whichever directions work for them. Extensive touring has served to hone that dynamic even further.
There may well be some who feel the band are not progressing as quickly or as decisively or as distinctively as they might like. I believe they are quite wrong in thinking that. There are musical depths here that require sustained attention. Progressive rock takes time. Lies and Butterflies is an alluring record of exactly how far the band have come, the increasing levels of novelty which lie at the heart of each release – and the clearly exciting future which lies ahead.
Looking for Something Else (16:55)
Come to Me (5:17)
How do you Feel? (4:53)
Something to Believe In (7:34)
Dare to Dream (6:54)
Where Dreams Come Alive (7:26)
François Fournier – Bass
Jean-Sébastien Goyette – Drums
Antoine Michaud – Keyboards
Sylvain Moineau – Guitar
Jean Pageau – Vocals, flute, keyboards
Michel St-Père – Guitar
14th July 2018