Back in 2017, this blog picked Melissa & the Mannequins as the best new rock band in New York. With frontwoman Melissa Gordon’s calm, uncluttered vocals and purist retro 80s janglerock tunesmithing, the future looked bright. Since then, the Mannequins seem to have left the store window, but Gordon has soldiered on as a solo performer and bandleader. If catchy tunesmithing and big redemptive choruses are your thing, Gordon’s songs will hit the spot. She’s returning to a familiar haunt, the small room at the Rockwood on April 6 at 8 PM. It’s a pass-the-bucket situation.
From the low-key, plainspoken acoustic sketches on her Soundcloud page, it’s clear she hasn’t been idle since the arts in this city were put on ice by the 2020 totalitarian takeover. But her magnum opus so far is the 2017 Mannequins album Mtns/Plane/Sky, which is still up at Bandcamp.
Beyond her songwriting, Gordon’s biggest drawing card is her nimble guitar work, flinging one catchy riff or flurry of chordlets into the mix. The album opens with Can’t Let Go, a gorgeous intertwine of chiming guitar textures over a low-key backbeat from drummer Oskar Hagghdal, Gordon and guitarist Steve Flakus hit a wry twin-lead break that they send wafting off in a a flangey fog. Then they take a turn into slinky, retro soul-infused funk with All the Time, eventually rising to a cheery, punchy peak over a sleek organ backdrop.
Bliss is a crunchy powerpop tune with all kinds of clever touches, from bittersweet ELO keys to big Bowie-esque flares.. The band shift from funky verse to shiny, swooshy chorus and back in the the next number, Breathe, then tale a memorably moody detour into Lynchian soul balladry with Intruder
Listen, a brisk, gorgeously angst-fueled 6/8 soul tune bristling with layers and layers of guitar, is the genuine classic here, and a high point of the band’s live show. Slip Away is another real gem, with the album’s catchiest chorus: the recorded version reveals the song’s soul roots. The last track is Night in the Park, the synthiest, new wavey-est tune here.
One beef about this album: Gordon is a fine singer, and the places where her vocals were autotuned instantly date this music to a time when the entertainment-industrial complex was trying to wean people off human artistry and replace it with computers. Historians looking back at the early 21st century will shudder at how successful that meme turned out to be.