Beginning with frantic whispered vocals demanding "Let me be your warning," Mandarin's debut release
Fast>Future>Present warns of urgent and beautiful music that is to follow. Like a ballet on high tension
wires, Mandarin's charisma comes from their ability to combine both a quietly sinister feeling, a premonition
of falling, with textured and dramatic melodies. For a first record, the music maturity that is evident on
these songs is impressive. The songwriting alone stands head and shoulders above much of the indie rock
fodder that is passed off as music these days, leading the listener on a musical journey begin with those
first whispers and ending as the shimmering guitar and delicate piano notes ending the half-ballad dirge of
"The Gift Of Not Living."
Driving through Dreams, October 1, 2004
***** 5 stars!
What drew my interest towards investigating this band was Matt Pence's involvment (Centro Matic) and the
fact that these guys call home Denton Texas, perhaps the most fertile vortex on the planet at the moment
when it comes to a musical creative force. My instincts were right. These boys are at the top of
the creative curve in creating and borrowing new forms of expression. "Fast Future Present" is a very dreamy driven piece of a record, with deep expressive textures alongside richly performed accompanyment that recall all the
myths that music can become a force to be reckoned with. Such a shame that it took over 2 years for a label to
pick up this piece of work for others to hear. Do yourself a favor and dive into Mandarin before
everyone else finds the secret.
Dreamy,bold and courageous...............
Atmospheric math rock debut from Texan quartet
Mandarin largely draw on late nineties postrock – all somnambulant guitars slashed with atonal feedback. It’s a formula that quickly lost its potency and the weaker tracks here conform to dynamic cliche. More often, though, Mandarin use postrock’s flinty textures for less obvious ends. The tightly knotted anthemics of "Shadow Your Shadow" boasts a chorus to impress Dave Grohl. It’s hardly the stuff of Slint clones. Even more alluring, however, are the wafts of brooding Prog FX permeating throughout. On this form, Mandarin can even make the big rock acoustics of "The Beginning Hides the End" sound spectral. At times tentatively executed, but the moody atmosphere sees them through.
Denton, Texas quartet prove that the future is bright - the future is err, Mandarin.
Their 2000 debut album was unheard of here, but on this performance, Mandarin are worthy flagbearers for
'the new rock' alongside fellow Texans Secret Machines. In place of the latter's psyche/motorik
touch, Fast>Future>Present lends austere Slint-descended rock noir a heap of visceral drama,
contagiously edgier hooks and literary finesse. Band lynchpin Jayson Wortham's elliptical lyrics take
numerous ominous turns - beginning right away with "let me be your warning" on the brooding When Heat
Sleeps, which ends with bring-out-your-dead bells. "Is it so wrong, your hero's been hung, and it's just
begun," further cautions a grittier Shadow Your Shadow, slung over a jagged guitar/bass weave. With
spectral, Thom Yorke-esque ballads The Beginning Hides The End and Virus Smile varying the tension, this is
some coming-of-age classic.
Monte Holman - Oh my GOD!!
ed. note: This review was originally published in September of 2004. Due to a server error, it was erased from the database and has been re-published.
Thank god intelligent pop music still finds a home in North Texas. Mandarin continue to carry a torch passed through the last few years by bands like Lift To Experience, Centro-matic and even the Paperchase. Bands sharing a reverence for pop while taking necessary liberties to add to the genre rather than to sterilize it. Noise, rough edges smoothed with harmonies and fresh lyrics. Mandarin share certain goals and a common history with these Denton bands, but Mandarin stamp their own sense of goodness to their latest recording, Fast>Future>Present.
Mandarin have a strong sense of finding equilibrium. Some may fault this band for reasons regarding too much balance. Such preciseness risks losing the feeling in the music, making it too academic and cold. The rock and roll version of bad techno.
But Mandarin embrace the challenge and find ways to inject feeling into these songs. The loose vocal styling balances the meticulous, deliberate instrumentation. The vocals range from affectionate whispers to megaphone croons, and they bounce around, seeming uneven at times, in a way that makes blood flow through the songs structured cogs and pipes.
And listen to Holiday, my favorite on the album, and try to say this band is too mechanical to feel. The song drives you to bounce around before falling off into a barroom sing-along bridge and crashing back into a mesh of symbols and demanding guitar licks while still managing to end all pretty-like.
Songs like Eye On Time spiral into repetitive musical and lyrical phrases with off-timing that force listeners to concentrate and unknowingly begin to tap feet to whatever time they dont realize they actually understand.
This band possesses the innovation and playfulness in fucking with time signatures, but they do so in a way that is more captivating than annoying. Its a darkish contained energy that evokes a Texas band their promo folks compare them to, Bedhead. Mandarin can make you shake your ass one moment and then wash over you with dense soundscapes in the next, all the while remaining consistent. Thats the beauty of this music: Mandarin, in some songs, repeats itself throughout without boring or losing us, and they can change the arrangement on us completely without pissing us off or seeming immature. A very natural versatility.
A versatility that extends to song length and layout. Songs like Shadow Your Shadow and How Long? follow the short punchy pop song rules of no more than three-and-a-half minutes, while Dim Lit Vow and Virus Smile, for example, are upwards six to eight minutes. Also included are tracks like >> and A Loss Not To Dispare, which act as noise connectors between tracks, short snippets of sounds my mother would not consider songs.
Mandarin struggle at times with the virtues of introspection versus a driving desire to be engaged in discourse. A perfect example comes on Smother the Spark, a tune that begins with a bass line reminiscent of an early Scrawl song. Confident and ballsy. After a minute or so of this urgency, however, an empty piano finds itself in a muffled but busy room, droning on lonely notes atop the breathy voices and clinks of glasses. The song reverses itself after the piano part and returns to the rock, ending abruptly and effectively.
Mandarins collective energy to mingle comes and goes in the next song, Dim Lit Vow. As the title suggests, this intimate song quietly strings the listener along, including sparse percussion that comes in and out. A beautiful ebb and flow that builds to an ending that evokes a Red House Painters-esque melodic sense of space and emotion.
The band smartly bookends the album with the same lyrics in two different settings, both eerie. The record begins with When Heat Sleeps, a percussive bedding for the words to rest on, and the last song, The Gift of Not Living, changes the crisp percussive bed sheets for the warmer sheets of vocal chanting. The accompaniment to the song sinks into monastic chant repeating the lyrics the album opened with, ghostly.
Fast>Future>Present is laced with a patient sense of building Mandarin layers songs to their capacities, no more, no less. The band continues Dentons knack for producing musicians with great senses of arrangement, the sophisticated wisdom of when to hold out sections of songs and when to cut them short and move on to something else.
This is a great album; hopefully Mandarin wont be moving on to something else anytime soon.
In the not-so-distant past, Denton, Texas was a tiny, sprawling cultural center, comfortably cooling in the
shadow of Austin's bigger, better music scene, but with arguably more talent. Now Denton is a cultural
hub in the state's north, and not without its own capital from the ever-evolving dynamic of the
University music school and its core of students who both individually and collectively want to do
something new, and for themselves. The town has a Wal Mart now, too. Its local Indie scene has always been
hit or miss as a result of college student overeagerness, and the bands share a mortality rate
with the bars, but when the town hits, it hits hard.
Mandarin is the latest product of the Denton scene, a guitar band with catchy, unassuming riffs and
spoonfuls of edge sprinkled into swirling compositions distinguishable enough to give this young ensemble
their "sound" but independent of one another nonetheless. They're Kaleidoscope-era Banshees with
punch and Death Cab for Cutie without frailty.
Jayson Wortham's whiff-laden vocals appeal to side of the brain that yearns in passivity for the apocalypse,
just to see to what degree your world will change. "Shadow Your Shadow", an infectious number where spare
crunch chords climb the fretboards, addresses paranoia and the tendency to succumb to unqualified adivce. The
music is not ashamed of influence, as with "Smother the Spark." A double take reveals this is not Sonic
Youth, further clarified by the tune's atmospheric piano interlude and quick return to the upbeat. Clever
hooks abound and complicated signatures meet the wonderfully sublime ("When Heat Sleeps," "Eye on
Time"). Vanilla song titles and Wortham's songwriting are workable on their own but his delivery render the
lyrics erudite, punctuated by the guitar/drum combo of Matt Leer and Dave Douglas.
Mandarin's debut shows the 5440 or Fight! label continuing its steady performance as one of the most
dependable outfits housing today's indie music. That the label is able to to grab outstanding acts from
Oregon, St. Louis and Denton from their headquarters in Podunk, Michigan is either indication of PR savvy
or simply a set of good ears. I'm inclined to think the latter.
Fans of intelligent underground rock should listen up.
These Texans have a fine line in furtive exploration, which leads to explosive lift-offs and intriguing locations far from the beaten track. Front man Jayson Worthams voice does parched desperation, suggestive breathing and giddy falsetto. Timely.
Spacious space rock from the Lone Star State.
Texan band Mandarin were discovered playing on their home turf at last year’s SXSW music conference by UK label Bella Union, who are putting out Fast>Future>Present as the band’s first European release. Fellow Texans, The Polyphonic Spree, are fans, but Mandarin’s music couldn’t be more different. Their forte is dense and intense guitar workouts, woven together by contemplative vocals, that loop and repeat to hypnotic effect. But, just as it’s getting too morose, they drop in a killer melody to lift the mood. Compelling stuff.
Sarah Cohen 06 August 0 (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)
DALLAS MUSIC GUIDE
"Every good Dallas band is probably from Denton," is a saying I’ve heard, and said myself on several occasions. One label proving this saying true (not Idol Records, go east young man!) is Bella Union who has caught the fancy of four Denton/Dallas bands (Mandarin, Lift to Experience, Midlake, and jetscreamer), which considering the size of Denton-metropolis is amazing, but when you consider the bands, their interest is warranted. All of ‘em rock which is the main criteria for bands, but they rock in different ways and are more forward thinking with their respective sounds.
Mandarin is an emotionally tinged rock band that Bella describes as ‘psych-pop,’ which could mean Radiohead or The Zombies depending on the reader. I think they play tight, angular rock with hints of acoustic and ambient sounds in the mix. Fans of Radiohead, Sunny Day Real Estate, and the casual pop fan should dig these cats fine.
The disc begins (“When Heat Sleeps,”) and ends (“The Gift of Not Living,”) with vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Jayson Wortham whispering over acoustic guitar. Highlights of the disc are “Shadow Your Shadow,” “How Long?” and especially “Pilot Light,” who’s fuzzed out, bass heavy groove will make rock fans dance in no time and forget that Franz band. The centerpiece of the disc is the eight and a half minute “Virus Smile,” which begins with Wortham’s voice echoing with acoustic guitar that’s very Floyd sounding before swelling into a feedback laden rock jam that has to be the highlight of their live set as well. Another great Denton band and a great rock CD. Bella Union may be on to something.
-- Jason Pickett
Some people have power great enough that, when angered, a single statement hissed under their breath can inspire a chilled reaction, far more than anything shrieked or commanded. These sorts are sinister enough to instill true and lasting fear, not just the threat of punishment. Mandarin is a band of such power.
Glassy and controlled, their volume rarely ever reaches peak intensity, though their sentiment is constantly on edge. This allies them with such terrifying and unpredictable counterparts as Polvo and Red Red Meat, ensuring a heightened tension cloaked in whispers.
Fast>Future>Present is not a safe choice by any means. So much of this feels uncharted, requiring more trust than one would sensibly have. While you’re aware of the danger, there’s no option but to proceed, and the effect is thrilling.
"When Heat Sleeps" begins the album with the visceral, hoarse beckoning that belies their evil purposes. Lulling into a sly drone and mastering heavy Codeine-inspired guitars, it would seem harmless if not laden with such thick foreshadowing. By the track’s end, industrial noises creep in amongst the strained whispers, confining to the ethic of a Dickensian workhouse. It’s as if to say, "From here on out, you do what you’re told."
The following "Shadow Your Shadow" showcases the band’s other side, connected and mathy with bright and hopeful spots, but mired by grimy guitars. These somewhat light excursions distract the ear just long enough to get coaxed back into comfort, allowing perfect timing for more vicious attacks.
"The Beginning Hides the End" does just that, hiding its sharpness inconspicuously within a dulcet, acoustic melody. When ghostly souls begin to howl in exile, the pretty scenery is no longer a comfort.
Even when perusing their more straight-laced attempts, Mandarin is wonderfully tricky: they play on changing dynamics, accounting for an intriguing listen at every juncture. "Pilot Light," while indebted to a guttural rock sound, incorporates a maddening time scale that diverges from predictability. "Holiday" is at first a pattern of muted post-rock, but breaks into echoes of a warbling, alien aftermath.
Closing with the absurdly villainous "The Gift of Not Living," Fast>Future>Present becomes an abduction of sorts, whisking you away despite your best judgment. Its conclusive, cloistered sighs are hopeless and familiar; its dark, inescapable tunnels would not be tread by choice. Yet, there you are – and to the band’s clever advantage, it never gets more comfortable than that. Reviewed by Sarah Peters
There is an almost jazz-like sense of melody and rhythm on Mandarin's sophomore album, Fast>Future>Present. An air of off-kilter melancholy pulses intermittently through front man Jayson Wortham's songs of modern alienation and angst. Musically, Mandarin moves from math-like precision to emo passion to proggy disrhythmia, sometimes within the context of a single song ("Smother the Spark," "How Long?"), while other tracks find Wortham channeling his inner Nick Drake and Paul Simon ("The Beginning Hides the End," "Virus Smile"). There are moments of menace and foreboding that smack of Bedhead and Space Needle but Mandarin's gift is the ability to transcend their influences and chosen genres and use the core of those reference points to create something distinctive out of something familiar.
With a dazzling array of ethereal soundscapes and heavenly songcraft, Mandarin gives us the listening base the opportunity to genuinely feel the power of their art. “When Heat Sleeps” invokes of deep starry-eyed energy, as the record moves fast forward with the breathtaking tapestries of “Shadow Your Shadow” and the delightful tempo changes in “How Long?” As one infuses their heart and psyche into this musical gem, one seems to sink into the tides of ocean’s present, only to drift into the sea of the future, disappearing in to the horizon. Opening up with an elegant acoustic riff in the verse, the atmosphere of “Eye On Time” paints a picture of the mysterious qualities of measuring time itself. With this song, as well as the darker “The Beginning Hides an End,” Mandarin is terrific in executing the presentation of their intended message: For the listener to ponder the majesty of time and love, the universe and the immeasurable secrets of creation. The vocals by frontman Jayson Wortham are full of caress and lofty introspection, captivating great feeling and emotional resonance. Peter Salisbury’s bass and keys make the record further an enlightening experience. Matt Leer puts added punch into lead guitars, with Dave Douglass delivering tremendous effects with eclectic pulses, percussive flurries and changes in dynamics and tempo. Mandarin blend together as a mature cohesive unit and listening to their lush art is as delicious and sweet as the ripest of Mandarin oranges during harvest. The smooth soulful radiance blends with a complexity of lyrical content and instrumentation, taking us on an intergalactic journey into the heavens of music. Just for starters, checking out the superb “Holiday” can send one’s dreams into a vacation-like state with haunting and amiable immediacy. Even “Smother the Spark” can only smother the scent of drudgery and fuel the spark of musicality. Shawn M. Haney
wonderful music, August 25, 2004
Reviewer: darrenlloyd2 from Oxford, oxon United Kingdom
this has to be the first truely great album i've bought in ages.i knew next to nothing about this band/album before i bought it,i had seen one magazine review which mentioned things such as 'subtle dynamics'and 'hidden menace',the sort of phrases that grab me,so i thought i'd try it out.
what a treat. yes it has subtle dynamics and hidden menace,but it also has wonderous guitar work,melodic hooks that stick in you head and a stream of great songs, the best of which,for me, is the single 'shadow your shadow',the chorus of which is firmly lodged in my brain.
looking for comparisons? other texas bands i suppose.so,like explosions in the sky but with lyrics,lift to experience but with less religious imagery,and the secret machines without the stadium filling pomp. in short, a wonderful cd that you should invest in, you will not be disappointed.
Coming on like Jeff Buckley crooning from the darkest recesses of hell, this paranoid and cerebral look into the world of psyche-pop is at times compelling and at others quite terrifying. There are plenty of brooding atonal guitar motifs for experimental aficionados everywhere to get their teeth into, while every few bars is perforated by vicious electronic flourishes and swirling atmospherics. "When Heat Sleeps" is an ethnic and ghostly mantra--daringly subtle but leaving its imprint on the memory, while the twisted garage rock of "Smother the Spark" sees the band wandering comfortably over new terrains before retreating into a drunken piano sway. Mightily beautiful and bringing with it fresh walls of sound at every turn, Fast Future Present is an album that Mandarin should be proud of. Wonderful stuff.
I first saw Mandarin at Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios in Denton in 1997 opening for Low. I knew that
singer/songwriter Jayson Wortham worked at Rubber Gloves (I think he was booking shows for the club at
that point) so I didn't really expect his band to blow me away. All I really remember about that performance
now is that I was pleasantly surprised. They sounded like Tortoise with vocals. It was the outside stage at
Rubber Gloves. People were talking a lot and trains kept passing by right on the other side of the fence,
drowning everything out. All detail of the music was lost. The songs faded into one long drone. Not the
druggy, boring kind of drone but that inviting, cozy sort of blurriness that only certain bands seem to do
well. I wasn't sure how much of this was the band and how much was the setting. Train noises can be pretty
exciting. I just wanted to hear more.
The next thing I heard was their track "Here and Leaving" on Quality Park Records' "Band-Kits" Denton
compilation in 2000. That comp featured a few bands that have since gained varying degrees of wider
appreciation (Centro-Matic, Jetscreamer, Baptist Generals, Slobberbone) and some that should or should
have (Wiring Prank, Falcon Project, Budapest One, Titan Brigida). Mandarin's song was one of the weakest
on the whole album. Don't get me wrong, it was nice and atmospheric... but there really wasn't much "song"
there. It sounded like what it was - a sketch. maybe it was just the trains after all.
Their debut album, "Driftline", came out a short time later on Two Ohm Hop (Bella Union plans to reissue it
at some point in the future). I put off getting it for a long time. I figured the Mandarin on the album
wouldn't be anything like the Mandarin in my head so why mess with perfection? When I finally broke down
and bought it that little delusion was destroyed. The album begins with three perfectly sequenced songs that
serve as a kind of primer to Mandarin at that point in time. The instrumental, Tortoise-y "The Ignition"
opens the album and goes into the short, acoustic "Pure Led" which goes into the epic "Waterborne"...
which brings to mind King Crimson as played by Bedhead. These first three songs sound so different
yet all obviously come from the same place. The rest of the album's twelve songs bounce around the dynamics
and texture set up by of those songs. There are barely any strummed guitars on the album, just arpeggios and
feedback. Wortham sing-talks all whispery like. Aside from King Crimson and Tortoise, the album brings to
mind Slint and Elliot Smith at various times. Like a lot of those hazy Denton bands, though, Bedhead is the
obvious reference point. From the Dynamic, live sounding production to the zoned out yet precise
performances. "Driftline" wasn't a perfect album. It's not the most cohesive record in the world but that
really wasn't the point. It's a debut... and a pretty amazing one at that.
I wondered why people weren't talking about this band. The Dallas Observer ran a feature creaming over them
after "Driftline" came out and that was nice but it was to be expected. Nobody else seemed to care. They
rarely played anywhere and to top it off Two Ohm Hop shut down right as they were recording their next
album. When the album was finished last year, they made up 50 beautifully packaged cdr copies (on their
own C-Level label) to sell at shows and give to friends. They toured Europe with Lift To Experience
and by the time they got back home, they were on the Bella Union roster.
Bella Union seems to like those Texas bands lately. Their taste gets better each time out. Lift To
Experience is just plain boring, Jetscreamer is pretty good and Mandarin is the first truly great Texas band
they've signed. Their new album is already one of my favorite this year.
"Fast>Future>Present" is a crystalization of what has come before into something that sounds so striking
because of how much stronger it sounds now. This is still obviously the same band... they just sound so
much more confident now. There is an emphasis on groove and a subdued sexiness here and there ("When
Heat Sleeps", "How Long?"). They even "rock" at times ("Shadow your Shadow", "Pilot Light"). Wortham has
stopped being afraid of the mic... he now sings in a thin, lilting voice that always seems to be
insinuating something. It's so different it's hard to believe it's the same person. This album is more
produced than "Driftline" as well. In fact it sounds pretty compressed, which is very different from
"Driftline". "Fast Future Present" is all over the place but it holds together perfectly like the song
cycle it's intended to be. Almost every song has some little touch that sticks out. The quiet piano
interlude midway through the otherwise frantic "Smother the Spark", the ending coda of "Eye on Time".
It's hard to think of something to compare it to. Think of Tortoise or Polvo if those bands were more
into actual songwriting. Listen to this as soon as possible.
"Fast>Future>Present" comes out June 24 on BellaUnion.
(Indierock) Dit kwartet uit Denton, Texas maakt muziek met post-rock- en math-rockachtige invloeden. Over de band zelf is weinig informatie te vinden. Fast Future Present is het tweede album. Het werd al in 2002 opgenomen en op een klein label in zeer kleine oplage uitgebracht, totdat Bella Union zich over het album ontfermde. Het bevat twaalf pittige songs, competent uitgevoerd. Het songmateriaal is door de bank genomen van goede kwaliteit getuige prima akoestisch uitgevoerde songs als How Long? en Eye On Time, dat halverwege een fraaie tempowisseling kent en met fraaie noise gitaar wordt voortgezet. The Beginning Hides The End is een prachtig akoestisch gitaarliedje, smaakvol gearrangeerd. Holiday en Smother The Spark zijn voorbeelden van de heftige gitaarsongs. Laatstgenoemd nummer gaat halverwege plotsklaps over in het geluid van desolaat klinkende pianoakkoorden tegen de achtergrond van druk pratende mensen, waarna de song weer in zijn oorspronkelijk vorm doorgaat. Virus Smile is gebouwd op een schitterende riff – op akoestische gitaar – waarover een trage melodie wordt gezongen. Halverwege valt de rest van de band in en dendert de song naar een krachtig einde. Het is een van de hoogtepunten van dit sterke album.
3 out of 4 *s
(from some US punk rock distributer)
Prissy, soft indie-pop with quiet, droning atmospheres and melodic guitar. These guys probably sit around in kimonos and think up songs while sipping chai tea.
"Fast Future Present", segundo trabajo de Mandarin. Rock susurrante con aires de jazz para un álbum deslumbrante.
Habituales de las salas de conciertos del estado de Tejas, sus impactantes directos les han valido ya una sólida base de seguidores. Y es que el rock susurrante de Mandarin te cala por dentro hasta convertirse en una auténtica banda sonora interior. Si las comparaciones son la forma más eficaz de describir algo tan difícil de explicar como es la música, Polvo o Tortoise son en este caso los grupos de referencia. Y es que el de Mandarin es ese rock cerebral e intelectual que no esconde que la música es 50 % sentimiento, 50% matemáticas, y en el que el virtuosismo del jazz y sus complicadas estructuras sirven de campo de exploración dentro de las tan explotadas estructuras clásicas del rock.