Illegal Art (IA129 CD)
"I just turned 26 a few months ago and on my birthday, I looked in the mirror and
discovered all these white hairs in my beard."
Deepak Mantena, who records under the name Junk Culture, laughs when remembering
his tangible encounter with the aging process, but it's the emotional spectrum of
growing up, getting older and dying that permeates Wild Quiet (Illegal Art, July 31), the
musician's debut LP.
Filled with woozy pop, spacey synths, fuzzy guitars and sample-filled rhythms, Wild
Quiet equally nods to the bedroom, singer-songwriter confessionals of Atlas Sound and
electronic dream pop of Caribou, juxtaposing trenchant (at times mournful) lyrics with
buoyant, whimsical melodies.
"I named it Wild Quiet because to me, that succinctly describes the themes of life and
death, heartache and growing up that are on the record," says Mantena. "Wild is the
frenetic energy, the adventure, playfulness of new experiences and growing up. Quiet is
the reflection, slow deliberateness and wisdom of getting older and dying."
Although 2009's West Coast and 2011's Summer Friends utilized more of a sample-based
approach to music, earning the musician more comparisons to left-field hip hop
producers than singer-songwriters, Wild Quiet is the natural evolution of a songwriter
growing more comfortable in his approach to recording and song structure. The singer's
process remains the same: work out melodies on guitar, sample himself playing different
instruments, blend live instrumentation with looped and morphed beats and record nearly
the whole thing in his Oxford, MS home. "I wanted Wild Quiet to be more live," says
Mantena. "Some of my older stuff could be a little cold so I wanted to change that up and
introduce some warmer, rawer elements to the sound."
What's changed is the emotional heft and resonance of the tracks, exemplified on songs
like "Ceremony" about the death of a loved one.
"I see you lying there/Your body's not moving at all/Shake shake shake
shake shake your arms, I want you to wake up/Shoes off to enter your
room/Tubes are swirling around your neck/Remember the way that you
were, I want you to be you."
"Last year, I was traveling a lot and I was exposed to more death and heartbreak than
I've ever experienced in my life," admits Mantena. "In that sense, the album is very
personal. Listening back, I'm really surprised I wrote that. I don't think I've written a
more personal, direct song than that. I still don't know how comfortable I am with it."
A thumping backbeat and slicing guitar anchor "Growing Pains," in which Mantena
envisions his future self passing down learned wisdom. "I feel like it's me telling myself
to grow up," says Mantena. "It's future me telling present me to become an adult."
It's a testament to Mantena's songwriting abilities that such weighty topics are balanced
with exuberant melodies. From the shimmering, summery "Washington" and waltz-pop
of "Dwell" to the thunderous drums of opener "Oregon" and fuzzy guitars of "Young
Love," there's a hazy pop sheen that runs throughout Wild Quiet conjuring a confluence
of nostalgia, heartbreak and hope. Mid-album track "Be Good," which morphs from
found-sound cacophony to warm, mellifluous synths, stands as the album's pivot point,
starting, as Mantena notes, "adventurous and ending more relaxed."
Outside of the studio, Junk Culture's gritty live show harmonizes triggered samples
with live instruments and synchronized visuals constructed from a diverse well of found
footage. It's a reaction to the countless, middling shows the singer has seen through the
years. "I'm trying to pump some blood back into people's veins," says Mantena of his
live set. "I stopped going to shows because they're so anemic. I don't feel anything or
experience anything. What's influential to me is the raw energy of some punk show and
the experience of actually feeling something. I don't care if people think the show is good
or bad, but I want them to react to it in some way."
Maybe you'll nod your head to Wild Quiet. Maybe you'll cry. Few albums have the
ability to induce both as this one does. As Mantena himself sings on the title track, "With
a bit of luck I'll have more years/Try to get out what's beating my mind and do it."
Wild Quiet (IA129 CD)
Hang Roxy (IA701 7")
MP3: "Hang Roxy"
Summer Friends (IA122 CDEP)
MP3: "Summer Friends"
Video: "Summer Friends"
- Directed by Junk Culture & Celery Studios
West Coast (IA119 CDEP)
MP3: "West Coast"
Video: "West Coast"
- Directed by Junk Culture
Video: "That's Not Me"
- Directed by Pat Vamos
"The desperation of Mantena and [Jana] Hunter's frustrated pleas seem at odds with the romantic backing track and their own infectious melody, but that paradox is what makes 'Hang Roxy" so compelling." - Matt Sullivan
DROWNED IN SOUND, 8/10
"... [an] effortless flow between elements as distinct as Bengali folk music and game console bleeps to fuse into joyful, none too serious slices of leftfield pop bliss." - Guy Baillie-Grohman
"A blast to the headphones that brings to mind the off-kilger breaks of Flying Lotus and the unkempt energy of Prefuse 73's early achievements. Mantena's chop-cut arrangements meld spliced voices, out of place keys and plenty of close-cropped drums to form polyrhythmic bursts of sound and action." - Noah Levine
"A lovely, trippy blend of stuttering vocals, live drums and classic cut-up hip-hop break. It leaves you hanging in wonderment for a good while, then drops you into bliss. Perfect for sunset watching." -Kid Kameleon
NEW YORK TIMES
"Fragmented samples going off in your face. Almost dance-y, once in a while... Tone all phasey, woozy, wicky wacky. Short tracks, brutal edits, then looping. Sort of want to think of them as composition." -Ben Ratliff
"The record's title track is an appealingly textured amalgam of looped beats, grainy synth stabs, and cut up vocals, and would seem to be pretty heavily indebted to the Field, Of course, in this line of work, having such clear influences isn't a bad thing." -Forkcast
"Mines the detritus of decades of pop culture, stitching together a laundry list of song samples and random bits of noise... a head-spinning batch of tracks that make for a brilliant sountrack to the quick clicking, constantly updating always plugged in species that we are devolving into." -Robert Ham
"The nine tracks here are spasmodically rhythmic ad awash in digitally altered tones, vaguely alluding to Jason Forrest's hectic, prog-disco bombast, Caribou's sublime psychedelic funk, and Prefuse 73's clipped glitch hop." -Dave Segal
"Attention sample fiends: Junk Culture may have outdone you." - Matthew Olmos