“Love and Sex,” the latest release from Boston three-piece Mnemonist, has all the hallmarks of a breakup ballad. Wistful melodies bring old memories bubbling back up to the surface, helped along by slow-churning, Lana del Rey-esque drums and mournful guitars. Easily identifiable, sure, but anything but generic—in fact, their tunes have landed them a gig at NYC’s Rockwood Music Hall on July 15.
While lead vocalist Brett West isn’t afraid to wax eloquent about his former relationship (at one point he calls it a “parcel of a graceless trade”), “Love and Sex” is actually a self-portrait of his state of mind at a specific, critical moment in his relationship—or a tipping point, as he calls it. “I didn’t set out to write a song,” he explained, “it just appeared at a time when I needed to express something real and raw.” This moment was “one of emotional relief, of letting go, and being done with a very strenuous relationship with a complex person who I deeply loved.” West’s cracked vocals pair nicely with his tortured lyrics: “Now I have to go through all the motions / I have these limbs and they are fire / You taught me how to bite the pain.”
The lyrics are well-written and evocative, but the real emotional impact of the song lies in the production, where stripped-down drums and quavering guitar chords illuminate West’s melancholy vocals, casting them in a vulnerable, lonely light. The vocal melodies reflect this mournful quality in the verses as well, where West loops the same simple melody before sliding into a near-broken falsetto.
While breakup songs can easily skew to extremes of catharsis or self-pity, West aims to portray a more realistic end-of-relationship portrait, one where both parties are forced to balance conflicting feelings. It’s a small detail, but the repetition of this gesture holds us in the fragile emotional moment that West is describing.
While “Love and Sex” is bound to a particular moment, the band’s new EP, No More and Too Much, is a little more wide-ranging thematically. “It’s scattered, like our lives,” West confesses. Choosing to portray fraught moments with unflinching accuracy rather than impressionistic extrapolation, Mnemonist specializes in a musical photo-realism that makes sense given the personal nature of their songs. As West explains, their music is “lofty and reflective but grounded in everyday inspirations, fears, and experiences. And I think it’s ultimately pretty optimistic.”
Mnemonist’s EP No More and Too Much comes out on May 5th, but in the meantime, you can get an exclusive look at their music video for “Love and Sex,” below.