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Class of 2017: Mungbean

Class of 2017: Mungbean

Kevin J. Elliott

In pursuit of this year’s class, we originally courted the mysterious Turtle Island—a quirky, scuffed band of psych misfits making tunes akin to locals Way Yes or Animal Collective. It was a group full of stoned minds and big, bright, ephemeral ideas traipsing through the boundless world of electronic music. But after several emails, I’d come to find out that Turtle Island was a band in name only and was soon to dissolve. Those kids faced a gauntlet of “artistic differences” and were confused as to exactly which direction the amorphous quintet would go. Their intent was utopian and ultimately, never meant to be.

Good thing Mungbean has a similar vision.

Originally a duo formed by Turtle Island guitarist Sean Gleeson and vocalist Emma Swysgood, but now a trio with the addition of former Turtle drummer, Joel Blaeser, it was pure happenstance that Mungbean stood as a branch that was just as whimsical and creative as the band we searched for from the beginning. Instead of rising from ashes though, Mungbean is more like new roots, taking the gasoline-rainbow pop of Turtle Island and bathing it in blossoms of Balearic beats and slick Technicolor.

But still, the relatively young Mungbean is embryonic and in an amorphous form that is always shifting, starting with a template of dance music (or at least according to iTunes). In reality, much of what Mungbean has done since the beginning is work started with Swysgood and Gleeson composing on acoustic instruments, or sketches on synths, then fleshing them out into atmospheric workouts. Even in the transition from their first, slightly primitive single in July of last year to the elegant flow of the recently released “Night Drive,” you can hear them evolving, becoming a new band with each step.

“Our approach is almost always different,” says Gleeson. “Right now, I’ve got this great drum beat and I’m trying to just build a song from that. Most of the time we will just track idea onto idea onto idea, and then start stripping off of that because by that point, there’s too much going on.”

Swysgood talks in metaphor about the music, likening their process to that of a quilt.

“Especially now, when you look at a quilt you see so many colors and styles and ways that things are stitched together,” says Swysgood. “But you have to take it all in at once, there’s emotion and energy spilling over.”

Swysgood had a brief stint in the Worn Flints, a band where she didn’t truly have a creative role, something that’s not an issue in Mungbean. Her voice alone—a breathy hybrid of Bjork, Enya, and a jazzy Sade-esque contralto—is distinctive enough on songs like the new “Waking Up” and “Strings,” that she becomes a focus of melody and virtuosity in the music. The trio, though, are collaborative to the nth degree, with each member circulating the Midi tapping in patterns, and creating an analog versus digital dynamic to the songs.

As such, influences run the gamut—from Caribou to Grimes, hardcore and the National—and the band is almost embarrassingly current, referring to a recent pilgrimage seeing The XX as “transformative.” But to their advantage, Mungbean has few local contemporaries and they’re too inventive and arranged to be opening for laptop EDM entrepreneurs.

“We like a lot of music,” says new drummer and former Turtle, Joel Blaeser. I think that’s why we like doing singles right now, because we are still feeling out our sound. We haven’t settled down or been consistent to one genre.”

“Electronic and dance are such blanket terms and belong to such a huge universe, that it’s kind of nice that we can orbit that.”

So, I encourage the group to think of one while I buy the next round.

I return and there are still shrugs and smiles. Youth not wasting youth for anything futile like a genre tag.

Those are positive vibes for sure, it’s infectious and it pulsates through their music. May I suggest “posivibes” Mungbean? Feel free to use that.

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