Syracuse multi-instrumentalist/singer/songwriter Greg Pier and his vehicle, “Mandate of Heaven” have released their latest CD, “Mark Music” and are preparing for several shows in May and June. Pier could certainly be considered one of the area’s most prolific writers as MofH reaches double-digit numbered releases. MofH is not only a band, but also the moniker for Pier’s solo performances and recordings. “Mark Music” is the tenth release on Pier’s “Neon Witch” label. Jason “Jocko” Randall engineers and mixes at More Sound with additional tracking done at Neon Witch, Randall and Pier co-produce this release which was recorded between 2009 and 2012. All songs were written by Pier except “Scrapper’s Blues”, written with Ethan Jenks.
The current band features FLASHING ASTONISHER veterans Bob Kane on Drums, who plays on all tracks here besides “High Dragonfly” and Chuck Gwynn who contributes bass on “Bedroom In The Sky”. Bob gave me a great quote while we discussed this review, “What bums me out is that my favorite tune has Greg on drums, “High Dragonfly”. I laid down a track, but I was more Wilco than Crazy Horse, just too many grace notes, so he played it himself. Someday I’ll learn!” Jason “Jocko” Randall on second guitar and six string monster John Hanus plays the slide solos on “Bedroom In The Sky” and “Cruel, Cruel Aristocrats”. All other instruments and all vocals are performed by Pier, much the same as previous MofH releases.
The CD opens with “Baby Electron”, a straight-up power-pop monster, setting the bar high for the rest of the disc. Super melodic, the ringing harmonic guitar parts swirl around the vocal harmonies ‘til the chorus hits with a crunch and bite! Hopelessness and lack of control, such a romantically pretty place to start and an appropriate lead in to “Bedroom In The Sky”. John Hanus’ dripping slide part supports Pier’s melancholic reading. The guitar parts individually read with a R.E.M. feel, the rhythm, the slide. Gwynn’s bass line is solid and flowing, just the right feel to work with Kane completing the section. “Scrapper’s Blues” is like a postcard from the front porch, written by Yorke and sung by a Matt Bellamy/Bono lovechild. The syncopation in the guitar line with Kane’s drive close at hand pushes the pace in an almost twirling dance. The first listen of “High Dragonfly” illustrates Kane’s previous quote, while the vocal line belies the almost woodsy feel of the tune, Pier’s vocal twists from his heart like the removal of a similar knife-blade. There’s a “dEUS” quality to one guitar line that echoes a “Beefheartish” influence and influences the vocal meter. The minimalist feel allows the words to bite and release, hard. “From The Center” releases the heavy side of Pier, while he allows the melodic vocal duality to layer deep. Kane’s strength reminds me of QOTSA Grohl, along with a vocal intonation that is rhythmically British in a Foo kinda way, again, back to Kane’s quote.
There’s an edgy, crispy quality to the whole recording, maybe it’s in the compression. It’s a bit haunting and a bit halting, kinda like T-Rex at times vocally and that ain’t bad!
Note: We just clicked on cdbaby to the “if you like this artist try” section. Hahahaha! Perfect!
“Cruel, Cruel Aristocrats” brings Hanus back in the mix to accentuate the fast pace of Pier’s guitar line. Thematically Pier takes another bite at the expected and entitled, spitting at the standard while embracing the outsider. Check out the video here, it’s very well done.
“If Twenty” jumps out of the gate heavy, its layered guitar riffs punctuating Greg’s quasi-pastoral, pleading vocals. Kane, once again is so strong, yet thoughtful, right down to the bell ride on his cymbal signaling the crunch along. Pier’s disaffected poetry is wrenching when it reaches its apex, circling and re-examining to the ultimate goal, the ultimately isolated self.
“Parable” is like a theme that runs in my head everyday. Listen to what the self-proclaimed decide you like and let them pick your enemies while they’re at it. It spits at the standard and what is foisted upon us daily. Almost a updated “Iron Man” hidden in there for familiarity, with the classic percussive break only to bring you back with slowed down big-rock ending.
“Riverbed” has a cool wilting pedal steel line playing against the semi-San Franciscan guitars, whether they’re para-psychedelic or more semi-symbionic. There’s a root in the Appalachians and a mind in Berkeley, woeful, but trust-fund hopeful. Cue up Yo La Tengo – “Sugarcube” and stress the droning vacuum cleaner sound.
“Hand The Bottle From The Tree” is classic indie-power pop, it rocks, the vocals soar and the end kills. It times in at 3:08, just like a single that will never get airtime. It’s a pity really. At first listen a few months ago I stated that this release alone was reason for a “Album Of The Year” category in our local SAMMY Awards. Did I mention that this won “Best Modern Rock” album this year? I truly believe this work toasts many Grammy winners, it truly is that good! A taste of The Black Keys, maybe some spice from The Raconteurs, all deftly dialed in by Jocko and Greg.
The closer, “Song Of The Halfway Point” lays it all on the table for digestion. Influences blended with personal vision, forethought and hindsight mixed with the slightest twang. It’s powerful, it exceeds its environment, it stretches reality beyond the norm if only just in wanting. It’s brilliant. Go buy it right now.