Sorry, I don’t smoke.
When he asks you if you’ve got a light, that’s not what he means. The he is Brandon Phillips. The band is Mensa Deathsquad. This single is “Light,” but it isn’t. It’s called Electronic Darkwave, but it isn’t that either.
So What Is It?
There’s that bubbly, b-boy synth bass backing and coaxing vocal, easing in a needling guitar—could be a bit of Post Punk as the vocals become more concerned and start to list real or imagined slights.
The chorus? A gang agreement asking if we have a light. Nope, I don’t smoke. Let’s not start that again…
The paper thin drums won’t quit, the music surrounds us, then the bass opens up so much we hear it twang as the vocals conciliate a little, but are actually winding themselves up.
They don’t crash, they almost implode to pulsing synths and a whispered lead out, as if Brandon’s changed his mind and is onto the next Mensa Deathsquad thing.
All About The Beats?
This is dancey song which is about vocal performance; that’s rare at the moment. Mensa Deathsquad sound rather new.
The music is spare, sparse, providing a launchpad. The delivery is all important. It’s reined in, on the edge of something, wanting to talk but not being able to.
And when the song walks off at the end, there’s a feeling that they there might be some trouble elsewhere.
Who Is This Then?
Brandon Phillips has served time with The Gadjits, the Architects, and Other Americans.
This is not his first Mensa Deathsquad rodeo either, check out tracks like the Depeche Mode arena intentions with Glam love of ‘Famous’ or the dirty CBGBs with ’80s Pop of ‘Riot Of The Rebel Angels’, Brandon doesn’t stand still to be tagged.
Musicdaily.app are right when they describe Mensa Deathsquad music: ‘The deathsquad, made by Brandon Phillips, sound like a mix of genres of underground music with a touch of nostalgia’.
That nostalgia is important semiotically, it tells us where we are and allows Phillips to take us to new places.
The delivery is so important too, as he tells us: ‘So I threw together a beat and hit RECORD and started singing words into the mic. Now, I cannot emphasize enough how absolutely agonizing this was.
Even in an empty studio, my inner-critic was erupting with this withering rage like, ‘You f*cking idiot! You have nothing written down!’
Feeling his way through this track, his first written with Barb Morrison, who has worked with Anthony and the Johnsons, Blondie and Deborah Harry, he allows us to feel his worry, frustration at not knowing quite where he’s going, inability to complete.
As Brandon revealed, ‘I keep singing this bit over and over and I start sweating…So I just string some words together in my head and hit RECORD.
Without thinking about it at all in that one take I delivered the line exactly as you hear it now—the lyric, the melody, the whisper part—all unplanned.’
And it does feel that way. It has all the repetition, the jerky working through an argument and the wish to refine it somewhere else or take it to a conclusion elsewhere.
And when Brandon listened back, it choked him up, but he blew his nose and vowed not to change a single thing.
Good job. This is unusual. So few Darkwave, Synthwave, even Dance tracks concentrate on the person singing.
They concentrate on the person dancing.
Mensa Deathsquad do it differently here. By turning the focus inwards, Brandon Phillips has created a dangerous, effective and effecting song which asks questions and makes you want to know more.
This is the precursor of a larger work coming this year from the Missouri native and when Nyrdcast refer to the ‘passionate catharsis of Brandon’s new writing direction’, that’s exactly what I hear.
The personal, the human, the soul laid bare takes this beyond the machines, beyond the beats. This Mensa Deathsquad track sounds real and I want to hear more.
Well done Brandon and Barb.
Many hands make Light work? Not this time…