Like an oasis appearing to the lone, wearied cowboy, rebel-psych Americana group Modern Mal’s The Misanthrope Family Album dropped May 12th 2017, is the meeting of traditional country with a mirage of tropical beach-psych.
In the writing process, it seems the band’s northern Michigan songwriting pair of Rachel Brooke and Brooks Robbins, had a specific recluse in mind—a close family friend they recently took care of on his deathbed. A misanthrope with a unique way of looking at life; it’s his eerie polaroid portrait that adorns the cover of The Misanthrope Family Album, and his peaceful passage into the afterlife guides the spirit of the album. Though rife with his quirky melancholia and the grief inherent in loss, this album also celebrates their friend’s magic, and the magic of family. That is Modern Mal’s genius: the dark and the light balance each other out. Rachel’s high, floating vocals and Brooks’ dark, foreboding harmonies make The Misanthrope Family Album some twisted lovechild of Brian Wilson and Lou Reed, and the use of slide, surf guitar, ukulele, and 1950s doo-wop influences make the album as sunny and intricately produced as it is dark and gritty.
Rachel and Brooks met playing shows together in Detroit. At the time, Brooks was a loner songwriter writing pretty, dark lullabies, and Rachel had been releasing her own Gothic Americana—infused with punked-out murder ballads, rockabilly and early jazz. Hailed as an underground country queen, Rachel found her match with Brooks Robbins—who’s dark baritone voice and preoccupation with the mysterious complemented her artistic vision. In the meeting of their twisted, talented minds, Modern Mal was born.
The Misanthrope Family Albumwas recorded at Halohorn Studios in Traverse City, Michigan, with some of the people who are closest to Rachel and Brooks. For instance, Rachel’s brother Andy Van Guilder played drums, their best friend Nick Carnes and his first cousin Mike Cullen played played guitar on the album, and Rachel’s childhood friend TJ Rankin (bass, percussion) also made an appearance. Throughout the process of recording, Rachel and Brooks were careful to include the creative perspectives of all involved, which accounts for everyone’s disparate quirks and makes the new release feel authentic and alive.
“Brooks and I are the songwriters, and the orchestrators, but we believe in hearing out other people’s ideas and interpretations,” said Rachel. “What really stands out to us is that most of the people on the record are all really close to us. Either family, or very close friends who all just happen to be brilliant people, and introverts… “Most of the songs are about feelings of sadness, inadequacy in love, exploration, introspection and self-reflection,” said Rachel.
The heavy subject matter is meshed with jangly harmonies and washed-out psychedelia—both Rachel and Brooks cite The Beach Boys as a major early influence—but with an eerie sci-fi element that underscores their collective fascination with the unknown. As Brooks so aptly said, “If we are the product of purposeful design, hopefully death will be a celebration,” and with The Misanthrope Family Album, Modern Mal have indulged all the magical, quirky mystery inherent in death, and life.