When I was a kid, I used to imagine myself wrapped up, sleeping on a cloud. I’d feel the cool warm breeze of the sky gliding past my face as my body sunk into imaginary plush cushions above the earth. One gets the impression that this small fantasy is something Mesén Around’s Brandon Mesen has considered when crafting the sound of “Sex in the Sky”, a sparse, acoustic album featuring soaring vocals and plucky strings. Similarly to his previous work “Adventure Walk”, this free, open world spirit flows through the album like a gust of wind, circulating and breathing in feeling in each song.
Album opener “Become Something” prominently features a sample of a man speaking truth to self-improvement power (“believe in yourself!”) while plucky acoustic guitars hum along with Mesen’s quiet voice. What’s noticeable right off the bat is how quietly this track (and subsequently the rest of the album) is mixed, which means cranking up the volume just to hear what’s going on. The intentionally sparse nature of the instrumental does however help to communicate and emphasize the sample, while Mesen’s falsetto transcends into a sort of Michael Angelakos terrain, soaring high above the rest of the mix.
Mesen’s voice takes on multiple different forms throughout the album, sometimes as an atmospheric instrument on tracks like “Become Something” and “My Crazy Diamond” communicating mood rather than lyrical clarity. Other times, Mesen seems to have a very specific point to get across, as he forces out the phrase “I can’t see you now” on the track of the same name. Reverberated guitars float around quiet, muted drums as his lyrics convey a romantic message, “I wanna play with you/I wanna sing to you my love”. This track functions better than several others on the album in terms of conveying specific emotion, but slightly unconfident vocals somewhat undercut his point, especially as the song sort of ends, randomly fading out seemingly in the middle of the song.
While almost all of the songs on “Sex in the Sky” keep the same kind of sound, some songs make better use of this sonic pallet than others. The very Rex Orange County inspired “Sleep Walking” and the catchy melodies of “Ivory” feel more mature from a songwriting perspective, displaying more chord variation and clever lyricism like “she’s calling me/in the plane beyond the sea”, which helps to build a more consistent atmosphere. However, with a mostly instrumental second half of the album, it’s easy to find the sound somewhat monotonous or lacking in general. The bones of a song like “My Friend ?” lends itself towards a vocal melody and the absence of one is striking, and “Blue Surf” sounds too much like the rest of the album (strumming, reverberated acoustic guitars) to carry attention as a standalone track or as an interlude, making it sonically pleasing but ultimately redundant in the context of this album. The strictly instrumental tracks do find a place in the Daniel Johnston invoking closer “Hey!”, in which a nostalgic keyboard sounds more hopeful than the rest of the album, and “Don’t Trip (It’s gonna be okay)” which is a sort of an emotionally negative inversion of the opening track, this time featuring a spoken sample of a man talking about a dissent into insanity, rather than the optimistic view of life.
Overall, Mesén Around’s sonic pallet on “Sex in the Sky” lends itself a bit towards redundancy, but also carries the listener through a lush sonic landscape that is hard to capture in such a clear and concise way. It’s easy to get caught in the trap of crafting an aesthetic just for aesthetic’s sake, but Mesen utilizes it as a way to let himself and the listener fly.
- Felt very airy and light, accomplished that vibe really well
- It seemed emotional, although only vague emotions crept in
- Aside from being way too quiet, it was mixed very well
- Interesting and mature songwriting
- Some tracks felt redundant
- Mixed way too quietly
- A few tracks faded out a little too quickly