What does Mary Jane Dunphe sound like?
Gritty industrial pop beats with deep synths that want to replace bass guitars.
The review of Mary Jane Dunphe – Stage of Love
There is a gritty 4AD vibe that comes with Mary Jane Dunphe’s ‘Stage of Love’ that is undeniably dramatic and cinematic. As a poet, songwriter and performer, it’s as if the album is written around emotional surges coded into the music. If the percussion isn’t sending you into a hard groove then the industrial synth-pop and shoegazing rock moments that contain instruments you wouldn’t expect to be there send your ear into a tailspin. What sounds simple on the surface is actually very complex and rhythmic.
The entire album is designed to make you dance and break out into joyous raptures but via a dark industrial tone. It reminds me of the meme about all the goths dancing to Thomas the Tank Engine under an underpass tonally. There are moments of glorious abandon but it is always coming from a dark place. Take ‘Always Gonna Be The Same’ as a prime example. It has big 80s keyboards bringing Soft Cell energy but Mary’s deep voice, the brooding thick basslines and crunchy drums keep an industrial edge. There is always grit and it never leaves the production or the performance. It characterises the album and makes each anthemic track feel earned and like a breakthrough moment. Nowhere is this felt larger than the tape-warped noise rock of ‘Stage of Love’. It opens the album in a surreal, detuned bass warble before standing proud in a noisy, crunchy four-chord declaration of rock. Dunphe’s voice refuses to attack a single line without rinsing every syllable’s emotion through a ringer. It sets up a cold musical sound draped with human emotion.
That character stays throughout. We have the almost German tech tinged synthpop of ‘Phantom Heart’ where the synths are kept lo-fi and harsh. ‘Longing Loud’ uses glitchy harp samples with the air sucked out of them alongside a full new wave / cold wave rock track. It is brash to the ear and the harp is so in your face, Mary turns a human instrument into something mechanical. ‘Just Like Air’ uses similar effects more electronically. Then we have the almost Babylon Zoo sounding ‘I Know A Girl Called Johnny’ which has a campy gothic soap-opera rock to it. Marc Almond would be proud of the production and vocal delivery here. Melodrama is an understatement, but it’s another way to inject human emotion into a cold industrial world.
Interestingly four tracks try to sound a little less rigid but they all attempt it in different ways. ‘Moon Halo’ is a late Cocteau Twins sounding rock track with heavy gazing guitars and a hazy hue over absolutely everything. It is a beautiful track. It’s the only track where Mary Jane Dunphe also leans fully into her higher register softly too. ‘Opening Of A Field’ is one of the most experimental tracks on the album. Here, Dunphe really lets the rhythms breathe as she carefully moves around lots of different instruments over an open drum beat. Sometimes the guitar just slides up the frets like a surge of emotion. Other times a Carillion or xylophone is busy just tinkling away. In an album full of claustrophobic meat grinders, this stands out. The last two tracks contain no percussion but ‘Starless Night’ instead contains the most powerful and raw vocal performance. Mary screams, gurgles, hollers and rages over angular twitchy synths. They sound like aged and grizzled cellos so it has an alien symphony quality to it. The closing track ‘Saint Dymphna’ is a noise and tone garden of quick samples, over in a flash.
I’ll admit it took me a few listens to click with ‘Stage of Love’ but I’ve really fallen for it. The juxtaposition of such cold, empty and aggressive synth, beat and guitar production set against Mary’s vocal abandon works wonders. With each listen I find myself getting caught up in either the emotion or the beat. I can attune to the album depending on my mood and tap into whichever primal essence I need from it. I’m so glad I gave it time to bed in and I hope anyone who loves some cold, hard industrial pop does the same. Excellent.
Recommended track: Stage of Love
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