Picture Albert Einstein alive and well in 2012, joining Portland’s indie rock scene to propose his theory of indie-rock relativity: a carefully engineered theory seeking a fresh approach to a tried-and-tired music genre that combines science theory and sci-fi monsters with catchy hits. Semper Augustus, the new album from Portland indie-pop trio Mango Floss, would be the album to come out of the old curmudgeon’s genius brain.
Semper Augustus picks up where 2010’s Monsters EP left off: straightforward song craft with a penchant for stories about Godzilla and obscure scientific references. “Tulipomania,” a story referencing the first economic bubble in the Netherlands, starts off the album with a tour-de-force.Vocalist and guitarist Sarah Wood puts herself in the shoes of a 17th-century Dutch citizen, providing a modern connection to present day economic uncertainties: “Late in 1636/ I built my house on tulips/ Financiers offered speculative tricks/ Flower prices only rise.” Wood’s wolf whistle is reminiscent of Sam Cooke’s cover of “Summertime,” a texture that invades the listener’s mind like an eerie chill as the music builds up to a crashing close.
Where the former song is perfectly polished, “Occam” is overtly rough in production: The vocal and drum tracks maintain the foreground of the song while effectively hiding Farhan Rahman’s bass lines and the textural elements that break the indie mold. Peter McLaughlin’s jazz-influenced drums stutter and hook the listener in “Summer” as Wood’s guitar winds with the depth of shoegaze pillars Spacemen 3 and The Durutti Column. The trio cannot help but induce a dancing sensation in their listeners while Wood emphatically exclaims “You’ve got the glass boy/ Drink up your fate.”
What makes Mango Floss engaging is how their combined academic and humorous references provide the vehicle of expression for inner emotional turmoil. The six-song album closes with “Godzilla,” where Wood is transformed into a mutated lizard crashing through all of her internal bridges while explosive fuzz guitar from HillyTown blogger Bryan Bruchman engulfs the song.
Too many songs feel like early drafts waiting for their kinks to be worked out, a frequent problem when bands venture into new territory. But while Semper Augustus is rough around its edges, what is most apparent is that Mango Floss are on their way to creating a sound that extends beyond the sum of their parts.