Saturday, December 1, 2007

Hearts of Animals

posted by Ramon Medina - LP4 @ 12:01 AM

Leon casino,

Photography: Theresa K. © 2007

It’s a bright Saturday afternoon in the Montrose. The Westheimer block party has just begun and the larger crowds that will eventually pack the area have yet to arrive. As you step into Numbers, the darkness envelops you until your eyes adjust. On stage is a woman behind a microphone holding a guitar; a Macbook sits atop a folding chair to her right. She reaches down - punches a key. A drum machine echoes though the cavernous room. She begins picking notes on the guitar and she sings. The songs she sings evoke a loneliness and weariness earned through experience: bright poppy melodies that ring of hope and beauty with an undercurrent of sadness. If pop music is intended to be trite and disposable, in the hands of Mlee Suprean’s Hearts of Animals pop becomes something more – through her lyrics, sense of melody, and rich textures – it becomes literary.

You could argue that music is in her blood. Her father’s a talented bass player whose hook-filled work graces a few Hearts of Animals tracks. Her mother’s side of the family were talented West Virginian folk musicians and the family still retains old scratchy records of family members performing Appalachian songs. Mlee retains that organic approach to music. She graduated with a music degree (half of a double major) from HBU yet, to her professor’s frustration, she resisted music theory; “It was like re-wiring my brain. I play by ear, so it was very difficult learning and applying the math of music. I let my emotions write my music instead of trying to force my technical learning into my songwriting.” Her latest EP is a perfect example of her writing from her gut. “I was going through a separation, I was ready to move on, and I’d never acted on that before.” It had been a year since she had written anything then “one night that summer I sat on the balcony and wrote three songs.” She later followed up this spark with four more songs that appeared on the Hearts of Animals debut EP Lemming Baby. It’s an EP rich in emotion and immediacy. Stars Say No, for example, deals with the realization that the one you are with may not be the right person. The song plays on a Big Audio Dynamite song; in response to Mick Jones’ Mr. Walker saying, “We’re heaven made”, Mlee’s Mr. Walker concedes that the astrology is all wrong. Twenty Questions’ bouncy bass line and sweet melody are belied by the nastiness of being confronted by a lover’s suspicions. It’s all pretty heavy stuff for a pop song but not all of her debut is all dramatic soul searching. Take Underwater Staggie’s psychedelic pop which puts you next to Mlee as her friend Stagner discusses 2012, giants, astrology, and Houston’s eventual submersion into the Gulf of Mexico. The songs lyrical content is playful, the melody is gorgeous, and the attention to texture, instrumentation, and arrangement is nothing short of masterful.

Hearts of Animals’ current incarnation was something Mlee arrived at through an evolutionary process. The project became a personal challenge to prove to herself that she could indeed hold an audience’s attention, “By nature, I’m antsy. If I get bored with a band, I leave. Last summer I was playing at coffee houses then, I threw-out beats and people freaked out.” Beats and volume are hardly a coffee house staple but she followed her instincts and audiences loved it - volume and all. The physicality of volume is something Mlee relishes, “With a show, I want ears to hurt a little bit otherwise I’d be at home listening to the record.” The use of prerecorded tracks came a bit later as she initially felt it would be “cheesy” but after some prompting she gave it a go and, again, the risk paid off.

Beyond the rich melodies, textures, and performance, what holds audience's attention is Mlee’s ability to write songs that are universal and yet very personal. The songs are not mere melodrama but are honest and conflicted internal dialogues where the narrator remains unsure and hesitant because, in life, choices have consequences. Mlee then takes that tension between fear and hope within the songs and grounds them in a particular sense of place – take the recurring seaside motifs for example. These sprinkled settings create a very real and tactile world yet there is a haze between what is literal and what is metaphorical and between what is said and what is unsaid. “I think there is a skill in expressing something without saying it. I like a story with lots of color, where I give them a window, but where people are left wanting more. I don’t want people settled; I want them engaged and intrigued. It’s like the end of Lost in Translation. What does he say?”

Hearts of Animals performs at the final night of The Texas
Gone Garage festival on Sunday December 16th at Rudyard’s. For more
information see

====Additional Web Links and Information===

Hearts of Animals plays with the Dimes and Sunset at Sound
Exchange on Friday 07 December 2007 (Poster)

Also, there is a nice Houstonist article on Hearts of
Animals that was juts posted today that is a nice compliment
to this article.


Hearts of Animals on Mysapce

MleeMarie on Myspace


At December 3, 2007 11:45 AM , sabra said...

Hearts of Animals is amazing. The music and the girl.

At December 3, 2007 12:08 PM , gaijin said...

I caught the Block Party show, and it was indeed awesome. Good on ya, Ramon.

At December 3, 2007 6:48 PM , marty said...

great artist.
great article.


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