The Mae Shi – Heartbeeps EP

The Mae Shi
Heartbeeps EP

God bless the good folks at 5 Rue Christine and their stalwart appreciation for the seemingly inappreciable. I’m willing to place good money that no other label can come close to replicating the polarizing effect of 5RC’s fine stable; mention a band like Deerhoof, Need New Body, or Xiu Xiu (especially Xiu Xiu) to the right people and you’ll always get one of two reactions: that of absolute devotion or utter hatred. And rightly so – the acts on 5RC’s roster take concepts like “inaccessibility” and “difficulty” to ridiculously extreme levels, often taking a directly confrontational approach to their music that recalls the trashy nihilism of acts like Pussy Galore and Brainiac. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, and 5RC doesn’t really give a damn; chances are they already pissed in your cup anyway.

That being said, I can think of no better home for the Mae Shi, a manic quartet hailing from Los Angeles, California. The band’s promising debut LP Terrorbird was a fascinating study in musical ADD; delivering 33 tracks in 42 minutes, the album was at once delightful and bizarre, a strange carnival of noise and melody that perpetually teetered between stochastic glee and entropic collapse. And while the follow-up EP Heartbeeps could ostensibly be described as being more of the same, it also shows the Mae Shi maturing just a little bit, injecting some much-needed cohesion into the band’s fractured take on art-pop.

This (admittedly subtle) shift is noticeable in the first two proper tracks, as “Born for a Short Time” and “Crimes of Infancy” follow instantly recognizable song structures without sacrificing the frenzied energy of their earlier work; a listener might even be able to pick out a hook or two if they listen close enough. And the lo-fi synth-pop of “Spoils of Injury” and “Spoils of Victory” are, while not impressive feats of programming, catchy little tunes in and of themselves, providing welcome spots of unassuming melody in between the blasts of raucous noise.

But the definite highlight of the album is “Eat the Prize,” a lovely burst of low-key pop bookended by searing bursts of dissonant guitar. Clocking in at a little over three minutes, it is also the longest track on the album, and it’s a good example of the Mae Shi’s songwriting chops. While it isn’t exactly brilliant, it is nonetheless quite engaging, and it serves as a fine rebuttal to the folks who might accuse the band (and their like-minded peers) of using noise to mask a supposed lack of talent.

It is perhaps telling that Heartbeeps often sounds like one fiercely dynamic 15-minute song rather than 10 separate tracks. Admittedly, the EP never reaches the same giddy heights of Terrorbirds; however, it is certainly more concise, eschewing the hit-and-miss experiments of the latter release in favor of focusing on what could be considered actual songs. And it is perhaps for the best, as the band’s new-found appreciation for structure goes a long way in giving Heartbeeps a tangible identity. Even though there are certain aspects of the sound that could be considered somewhat gimmicky, Heartbeeps remains a captivating document of a promising band with the potential to create some incredibly intriguing music.