Note: all this week, we will be highlighting Houston acts performing at this weekend's Houston Whatever Fest.
How much further can a new band ascend when their second gig takes place at the Knitting Factory?
Houston’s MNYNMS (pronounced Many Names) have been a band for less than a year, yet they have already remixed The New Division’s ethereal club anthem “Introspective.” They have already created a hyper-visual installation for their album, Projection, that not only complements the lush ambient compositions layered with mystical lyricism, but draws listeners into their intricately architected world. They work closely with some of electronic music’s most sought after producers, including Teeel.
What makes MNYNMS unique is their unwillingness to settle into one specific genre. “Our projects surface organically,” Jacob Childs comments. “We create art that attempts to appeal to more than just one sense.”
If visuals did not exist for the Projection series, each track would generate colors and shapes that would take on a form shaped by the condition and the context of an individual’s mind. Equally transcendent as it is visual, all nine tracks provoke rumination. Lyrically, vocalist Jessica Wahlquist offers prayers that tap into mystical places. Synth lines begin, light and airy, and then sink into mud, dragging and pulling in deep bass tones.
Herein lies the problem. MNYNMS creates art for the highbrow and the pedestrian. The fact that their music fails to be pigeonholed into a music journalist’s tightly-fitted category creates curiosity. If they make music that resembles London and Deep House music’s most obvious characteristics, and they make music that could be played during a hot yoga session, then what exactly is MNYNMS's identity?
To complicate matters even more, for Houston Whatever Fest, Childs will be performing on a drum set while Lacey Youngblood, MNYNMS's third member, will be playing keyboards over Wahlquist’s ethereal vocals.
“I am curious what genre you would categorize us in,” Childs asks. Considering their newest record features a huge departure from their remixes and the Projection series, featuring moments that reveal more by playing less, this requires an explanation that takes us back to a seminal moment in electronic music history.
In 1990, Alison Limerick’s “Where Love Lives” elevated London house music beyond a four-on-the-floor, ecstasy-fueled, instrumental dance-music genre. By adding pop-style songwriting, it forever changed the genre. It forced DJs to compose club anthems, which gave birth to such contemporary artists as Robyn and Emma Hewitt.
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Since 1990, electronica is unequivocally responsible for head-spinning results as a near-infinity of subgenres have surfaced: deep house, French house, sub-bass, future beats, darkwave, etc. One thing that each of these genres have in common is their deep affection for the conventional songwriting. The harsh noise/James Taylor mash-up may never see the light of day. Richard D. James and Celine Dion aren’t going to hook-up any time soon to write an album of analog gems. Justin Bieber, Diplo and Skrillex definitely will not get together and collaborate—
What MNYNMS represents is how music no longer relies on regional or local contexts in order to be created. In its heyday, Houston's KTRU, the original Pandora and Spotify except way cooler — played Steel Pole Bathtub, Gyuto Monks, Schooly D and an entire side of Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew before the DJ realized dead air, not music, was being played. Although no other radio station, save KPFT, supported local music by playing Brown Paper Dog and Mike Gunn Theory 7-inches, today is different. Steve Reich could be followed by Future on a playlist. Labels just don’t stick like they used to.
MNYNMS represents the future of music, plain and simple. They make music that is adventurous, danceable, spiritual and their own. Their identity, like many new acts, is what they deem it, not what we as music journalists would enjoy labeling it. Just don’t hold your breath for the MNYNMS/Rusted Shut collaboration any time soon, although that would be pretty fucking cool.
MNYNMS perform at Houston Whatever Fest this Saturday. See houstonwhateverfest.com for more details.