Truly peculiar and entirely unique, Alvin Band’s Mantis Preying is a vocal experiment that runs like a stream of consciousness at times and a carefully-constructed composition at others. It is one of the strangest records I’ve heard this year so far, to be sure, but there’s a fine beauty to it that emerges out of 21-year-old Rick Alvin Shaier (Miniature Tigers) like a slight breeze of cool air.
The quick nine-song record is the first “official” release from the experimental musician. Having been experimenting on four-tracks for about half a decade now, Shaier’s vision is bold and adventurous. It’s a little smidge of Beach Boys jubilation and a small slice of Queen, too, but it’s really all Alvin Band and all sweet, sweet magic.
Mantis Preying was recorded in a bathroom with a mic and a Powerbook. There are beats, textures, complexities and echo effects, all of which come from Shaier and, presumably, the character of the restroom.
The effects on the record, provided by Pro Tools with a dose of Björk’s Medulla serving as inspiration, are incredible. Shaier uses layering and echoes to help broaden the texture to his vocal experimentations, evolving the sound as he expands the stream of consciousness stuff into genuine compositions worthy of full attention.
Amazingly, the compositions somehow maintain order despite sounding rather chaotic and weird on an initial listen. Further listens deepen the experience and, as the realization arrives that this is indeed all one bloody guy, a sense of astonishment takes over.
Take, for instance, the beautifully textured “Lord of the Fly.” Shaier’s vocals bounce off of the walls in the background while a seemingly purposeless pattern works itself out in the foreground. There’s even a rhythm pulsing away, driving the track to its masterfully weird finale.
A really jaw-dropping highlight is the record’s final track. A medley of Andrew Lloyd Webber pieces, “Mystery of the Yellow Room” is more than a smattering of Phantom cuts recorded in the john. Shaier does amazing things here, layering harmonies on top of harmonies and melodies on top of melodies until the track resembles something entirely exceptional.
Mantis Preying takes a few listens in order to find the true groove, but this “official” debut from Alvin Band is a treat and one of the year’s most unique recordings. Half insanity and half delicious alchemy, this album is fantastically odd in all the right places.