Mav Karlo – ‘Strangers Like Us’ album review

Photo credit: Calm Elliot Armstrong

Royal Mountain Records (Mac DeMarco, Orville Peck, Pottery) founder Menno Versteeg is set to release the debut full-length record, ‘Strangers Like Us’, under his Mav Karlo moniker. Menno says: ‘The goal with the album was to take a good hard look at myself and my behaviour and really get to the heart of the matter. What I kept coming back to was the idea that what makes you human is your flaws.’

The recent single ‘Elevator’ and its take on the ups and downs of mental health (some days you feel like Superman, on others a strand of bacteria: ‘I make you sick even though you don’t know I’m there’) kicks off the record with an anthemic guitar-based sound, while ‘Dig a Hole’ is full of bouncy synths, dual vocals and tales from Menno’s past – including one about how his father escaped arrest for shoplifting and how different things could have been if the decision went the other way… ‘Detonator’ reminded us of The Faint with its synth-heavy opening and gorgeous hooks, while Menno’s Springsteen-esque growl complements the self-aware storytelling about checking into a hotel full of losers: ‘I wouldn’t call them friends but they knew my name’; ‘In the afternoon I’d wake up with Beethoven hair’.

The album feels like it’s going to take off with the intro to ‘Record High’ – a vibrant blast of power pop that recalls both Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Bleachers, especially in its defining statement: ‘I go up, I go down, I go left, I go right, I get by chasing my record high’. The title track heads in a funkier direction, although tinged with sadness, as a loved one makes plans that are far more exciting – making a table reservation in New York with a famous writer, no less – than what Menno had planned: ‘Saturday is the loneliest day but you’ve got to practise talking unless you go mad’. It finishes with a blast of harmonies and sound somewhat akin to Huey Lewis. ‘Nurses and Priests’ is in a more traditional jangly indie pop sound as Menno examines how even the bravest people amongst us have moments of self-doubt – an important message at the best of times, but especially in 2020 – and declares ‘I must be strong’ and ‘I must find my own way’.

‘Wirewalker’ is an ’80s-inspired anthem with a powerful metaphor about finding strength from within to help others (‘I can see you standing alone in the distance, I wish I knew how to reach you on the other side’), sublime harmonies and a fun guitar solo, while the closing ‘Treasures’ opens with some whistling before Menno reveals his frustrations at the constant stream of bad news he seems to be receiving. He’s had enough of screaming at the TV and blaming others and has made the decision to take responsibility for his own health and outlook: ‘I must walk on down through my jungle through the desert of my mind. There’s a whole lot of nothing I’ve got to look behind’; ‘I hope I find my city’.

You won’t want to be a stranger to this record…

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