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Stream/Interview: Mouth of the Architect – ‘Dawning’

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InvisibleOranges is proud to stream all of the new Mouth of the Architect record, Dawning. The LP, due for wide release tomorrow (6/24) on Translation Loss, is the subject of a conversation between our own Brad Sanders and Dave Mann from MOTA. The results of that discussion and the LP stream are below.

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As soon as we sit down in the coffee shop where we’d decided to meet, Dave Mann starts telling me about the house a block away where he used to live with the other members of defunct death-doom heroes Rune. There was a professional wrestling practice gym next door where band members could take out their frustrations on one another, and in the tiny house itself, touring acts from Noothgrush to Burn It Down to Drowningman would play sets to 200 people, raging deep into the night just beyond the reach of the downtown Tipp City noise ordinance. It’s a massive coincidence that we met so close to the place that was ultimately the genesis of Mouth of the Architect, but at the same time, it isn’t.

Tipp City is a northern suburb of Dayton, Ohio, nestled between Vandalia, where the airport is located, and Troy, where I was raised. West of Dayton is Clayton, the small community that Mann calls home. We chose Tipp because it was the rough point of equidistance between the two towns we were coming from. This is the calculus of suburbia: a never-ending loop of mental maps, knowledge of construction zones, anticipation of traffic jams, and lifetimes of memory that allow you to choose the easiest possible way to navigate the region without, God forbid, actually going downtown. Perhaps it was fitting that neither of us knew Tipp City had torn up Main Street for repaving and was redirecting all traffic through the residential areas a block away — right by the Rune house.

This is boring, but it’s driving at a point. This part of the country is boring, and Mouth of the Architect’s music has always been a symptom of that boredom, and a salve. It isn’t too hard to read between the lines of 2006’s “No One Wished to Settle Here,” still a landmark track in the band’s oeuvre. As a 16-year-old kid attending sweat-choked basement shows and dreaming of skyscrapers, it might as well have saved my life.

“This has always been our medication,” Mann tells me. “We’ve always been struggling, crazy artist types. When you sit in a desolate Midwestern town your whole life, it fucking sucks. It drains you. It takes a lot out of you. Some people accept that and let it squash them, and some people can’t accept that and have to express that anger and that angst.”

For Mann, that angst expressed itself first in Rune, where he played bass on a split with Kalibas for Relapse and a full-length for Willowtip. After a dubious drug arrest in Oklahoma fractured that band for good, he was able to hang up the bass and become a full-time drummer for a handful of projects, most notably a sludgy startup that would become Mouth of the Architect. Today, he’s anxiously awaiting the release of Dawning, the fourth and maybe best album by the post-metal outfit. Critical reactions and sales figures have yet to pour in, but given the circumstances under which Dawning came to fruition, Mann should feel free to exhale.

“We’ve had a lot of lineup problems over the years. We’ve had a lot of personal struggles with drugs and alcohol and all that crap,” he explains. “We’d all sort of splintered off and were focusing on patching up our own individual sinking ships rather than the collective one.”

Those efforts meant a five year break between Quietly, the band’s last full-length proper, and Dawning. They were also exactly what the band needed. Dudes got sober. They got surgeries, including one on Mann’s shoulder that forced him to change his drumming technique. They started looking at life as a gift to cherish rather than a race to the finish line.

“Some of us were convinced that the end was coming, either the big picture or individually,” Mann says. “Some of us, me in particular, were in a downward spiral in a lot of ways. It was time to start over. Life doesn’t end at 30, and you don’t necessarily have to drink yourself to death because you’re sad about the world around you.”

These kinds of sentiments are the difference between something like “Wake Me When It’s Over” from The Ties That Blind and the vibe that permeates the sound, the art, and the very title of Dawning. Take “It Swarms”, perhaps the best song on the album. It opens with a shimmering, tremolo-picked guitar melody that seeks to beat every Deafheaven riff at its own game. The last lyric of that song also conveys a key theme of the record: “And the world moves on.” That acceptance is huge for MOTA at this stage in their career, and no one knows it better than Mann, who brought to the studio the chilling sample from Synecdoche, New York that closes mid-album centerpiece “How This Will End”:

As the people who adore you stop adoring you, as they die, as they move on, as you shed them, as you shed your beauty, your youth, as the world forgets you, as you recognize your transience, as you begin to lose your characteristics one by one, as you learn there is no one watching you, and there never was . . .

“I think the reason that that one stuck was it seemed to parallel the themes we were running with,” Mann says. “It was really dark and desolate and desperate, but still with that sense of acceptance. Nobody’s been watching you, nobody cares, but you’re still here. You’re doing what you do.”

After this record drops, people will be watching. When I tell Mann that with four albums, a split, and an EP in a decade-long career, Mouth of the Architect have become post-metal elder statesmen, he laughs, but soon agrees. “It’s weird,” he says, “but it’s true.” Isis is gone. The members of Neurosis are distracted by side projects. Cult of Luna isn’t good anymore. The dozens of bands that started making this kind of music back when Panopticon was the new hotness have ceased to be, or ceased to be relevant.

Thanks in part to the anonymity of Dayton, MOTA has cruised under the buzz-band radar and emerged from their self-imposed cocoon with their most confident and boundary-pushing album to date. I’ll never forget seeing them plod through 17-minute sludge compositions in DIY spaces and park gazebos and photography studios, but for those who weren’t there, Dawning makes for one hell of a coming-out party.

Mann capped our conversation by telling me, “It’s a good time to be alive.” Taken at face value, that sounds about as profound as a Jones Soda-cap mantra. But knowing the history of his band, and everything they’ve overcome to get to where they are, I can’t imagine a more elegant string of seven words. It is indeed a good time to be alive, and having new Mouth of the Architect music to listen to is part of the reason.

Brad Sanders

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