Mondegreens are funny old literary flibbertigibbets; a difficult concept to succinctly describe. So let’s let Green Day sum it up in their seminal pop-punk scmaltzer, Boulevard Of Broken Dreams: “It’s only me and I walk alone…” coos Billy-Joe Armstrong. It’s probably only a small minority of listeners who actually hear that line. Everybody else will hear him singing “I wore cologne” rather than “I walk alone.” That’s a mondegreen. That’s probably the most famous modern-day example, but Jamie T‘s chorus in Sticks ‘n’ Stones is proper ace: “Running with the lemurs, no time for beaver!”
Digressions aside and to the main point, Mondegreen is the new album from Collectress, a band described on their website as “a cross between the Elysian Quartet and possessed Brontë sisters teasing an unsuspecting dinner party”. The neo-classical experimenteurs flit between 500lbs romanticism and welterweight paeans, stripped of all sonic debris. The foursome ably switch between a multitude of atmospheres on Mondegreen. Or perhaps it’s the subjective reading, or ‘mishearing’ – is this a mondegreen in itself? Are we to decipher our own definition from the ambiguity? *cue Inception music*
Opening gambit Whitechapel (Flint Wall) is fantastical chamber noise, clarinets (or flute?) scurrying through brambly thickets of 20th century art strings. There’s a meaty sense of pace and rhythm, and although there’s a minor hiccough in the woodwind at the beginning, it all still flows like a babbling brook. Spell swiftly follows, a minimalist-esque concoction of frayed rhythms, mathy time signatures and interweaving layers; it’s consistently lyrical despite this, with keyed melodies and conversing strings providing a waltz-like quality. It’s not a waltz, far from it, but it bobs and weaves into the format on occasion. It’s a bustling, messy aural-Gordian Knot which only Collectress know how to untie.
In terms of mood or aura that the quartet produce, it’s tough to pin down. This is likely the mondegreen they reference in the album’s nom de guerre. For example, Woodenheart is winsome, flighty and fragile, but it’s also dashed with triumph and JRPG soundscapes. Is it hugely expansive or an ode to introspection? This is arguably a facet many albums, or more specifically many successful albums, share, but with Collectress, it feels more deliberate. They speak of humour, whimsy and japery in their music – uh-oh, do we have a few more Haydns on our hands? – and with that adoration of the ridiculous, it points to a conscious effort to be obtuse, or at the very least, avoidant in their actual intentions.
Vocals are a rarity on the record, though this isn’t something you long for when listening to it. The are fragments of harmonious chants or choral-style vox, but nothing particularly concrete or prolonged until the unnerving Shutter Island-type cut, Goodbye. It’s eerie, somewhat pensive, and riddled with maudlin violins and macabre cellos. Goodbye’s not an effort you’d want to meet on a dark, dark night by the side of the road. However, it does feature words from all four part-time vocalists (and some found-sound snippets of rolling waves), which shakes up the record’s timbre once more, injecting a dollop of unpredictability into the mix.
Ultimately the record will cater to a specific audience. It lacks an inherent poppiness to endear itself to a wide swathe of people – and that’s not to mean it’s too un-Lady Gaga-like, but rather than hooks are few and far between. Even black metal has riffs. This is high-concept art music, avante-garde chamber classicism. It has narrow appeal.
However, and it’s a big however, those that do happen to be fond of these kinds of things will more than likely find this to be a fascinating, slightly unusual record worthy of countless repeats, one with hidden meanings. Not many will desire to tease them out, but those that do will love doing so, and in turn cherish Mondegreen.