Mise En Scene’s Hammering Power Chords Whisk You Away to Winnipeg, California

Mise En Scene’s Hammering Power Chords Whisk You Away to Winnipeg, California

Canadian group Mise En Scene has returned with another poppy, garage rock smash album called Winnipeg, California.

The creation of two Canadian art school dropouts, Mise En Scene is back with a new album, Winnipeg, California. Stef Johnson, vocalist and guitarist, and Jodi Dunlop, drummer, play their own unique brand of garage rock with a sometimes poppy, sometimes grungy, always energetic feel. Their new album is full of their boundless energy, hammering reverby and blasting guitar. There’s lots of attitude and some vintage twists that sneak up on you. It’s a consistently fun album that’s always shifting its sound slightly, but remains true to the band’s stripped down feel.

The band jumps right in on “About Love,” the opening track. Reverb soaked guitar and crashing drums begin the song. When Johnson starts singing, the song finds its quick —but not rushed— rhythm. Johnson’s repeated pleas of “I can change I swear” give the song an aching, almost desperate feel. At the same time, the upbeat guitar makes the whole song fun and rollicking. The song is a request for another chance at love, but when it’s delivered surrounded by poppy garage rock, you can have faith things will work out pretty well.

“Dollar Dreams” wastes no time, and Johnson’s voice comes in just after the guitar and drums. The verses are easy going, with Johnson’s voice mixing some of the desperation of the last track with a dash of moodiness. The title of the album comes from the opening line of the song with its reference to “Winnipeg, California,” a bizarre juxtaposition. This one’s about the power of love to make everything seem okay. There’s a sense of boredom and hopelessness, until that special person comes by: “I think you are worth the pain of falling in love.”

The next track, “Angel,” starts off with bright guitar, and has that garage rock groove that Mise En Scene does so well. Johnson’s voice starts off matching the brightness of the guitar, but the chorus has a different quality. Her voice becomes lower and closer. The drums rumble deeper, and the guitar has a simple echoey riff. It’s a brief moment that sounds like real vulnerability, a feeling we don’t lose when things crash open again. The song’s titular Angel seems like a fairytale at first, giving you everything you need. But it’s not clear if the Angel feels the same way:

Wait a minute angel

Don’t leave me alone

You’re flash of light who’s

Cutting through the stone

And even though I’m floating

You’re the one who brings me home

The song plays a lot with volume, sometimes muted and sometimes blasting out loud, and it makes for a lovely, surprisingly emotional journey through the track.

Johnson’s voice comes through with much more vulnerability from the get go on “High School Feeling.” The opening is tender sounding, with gentle guitar and drums. There’s a brief shift after the first “High school feeling” line, when the distorted guitar rumbles in and the drums hit a little harder, but the song quickly returns to its tenderness. The song is ruled by nostalgia for the kind of simple love and affection that happens when we’re young, marked by the lines “I gave it all up for you” and “I’d still give it all up to you.” The song lets loose and goes back into overdrive with the rush of emotions from times past, but returns to a gentler feel for the final lines of “I loved you too.”

“Dance My Life Away” opens with acoustic guitar and Johnson’s vocals taking on an almost theatrical feel. A ringing synth sound and the crashing electric guitar rush in to give the song more movement. The song cuts loose to match Johnson’s singing about a kind of dancing that doesn’t just bring joy but gives a whole direction to life. A spooky instrumental interlude and false endings keep the song unpredictable in the most fun way. It’s a song with an irresistible sense of movement that makes you want to join in with Johnson singing “I dance my life away.”

The next track, “Love and War,” has a similarly infectious sense of movement, but this one is ruled by Dunlop’s dynamic drumming. Layers of electric guitar, with some great riffs over hammering chords, join Johnson’s singing to give the song an ever changing feeling. This song returns to the subject matter of love, but this love is a combative one. The chorus, “You want a war / I wanna win / It’s just love and war,” highlights the confrontational nature of the relationship, but it’s unclear how much genuine affection there is. Nevertheless, the song is always lively and it’s hard not to want to move along with it.

Thick, reverby guitar chords underneath a further reverb-soaked riff open “Back to the Start.” The bass line and Johnson’s phrasing give the song a pouty 1960s pop feel, but that shifts quickly to a feeling of real pain: “Everything’s falling apart / How can we hold on to pieces of our broken hearts / Can we go back to the start?” It’s enjoyable to follow the song back and forth from its more vintage inspired parts to its unapologetically poppy garage rock sound. Mise En Scene sings about love and loss plenty, but it’s a real talent of theirs to never wallow in negativity, coating everything with a fun poppiness.

The next track, “Unsolicited Advice,” begins with a sense of drama. Johnson calls out the masses of people who always think they know better, over punchy guitar drums and tense, clicking percussion. The line “It’s just another night / Another night, just another night / of unsolicited advice,” kick the song into another gear, letting the drums lose and adding cyclic guitar riffs over hammering power chords. Johnson’s voice drips with sarcasm for the second verse in particular:

Thanks for the tip

Never thought of that

You know so much better than I

What would I do now without you?

Life would have just passed me by

The song has a great energy and when it cuts loose, it feels like you should be jumping around in a crowd of people.

“You Guy” is the penultimate song, and it opens with a wall of sound, guitar, keyboard, drums, and echoey vocals. It keeps up that energy, the instruments crashing down over and over like waves. When they fade back, leaving just Johnson’s voice and Dunlop’s drumming together, it still has such a powerful sound. The song plays with fading to be more stripped down, but it’s always irresistible. There’s a brief little guitar solo layered in the outro, before the song abruptly ends.

The final track “All the Love” appropriately returns to love, which dominates so much of the album. But this love is full of caring, warmth, and affection. The chorus captures what love should be. There’s a real joy in the track: 

Tell the neighbors, 

Call the world around 

From the rooftops 

Show them what we’ve found

Sing from the heart 

We’ll never part 

The guitar and drums keep the song swaying, and halfway through a sparkling echo floats in, giving everything a dreamy quality. It’s just one of those undeniably happy love songs, a little sappy at times, but that’s as it should be.

Mise En Scene’s newest album is a poppy yet rocking batch of songs about love and the sometimes terrible people you encounter while looking for it. These Canadians have such a talent for making infectious garage rock that makes you want to move, whether it’s actual dancing or just jumping up and down with the beat. Coming three years after their last album, Winnipeg, California shows Stef Johnson and Jodi Dunlop are still having a great time rocking out.


Top Photo by Annelie Rosencrantz