Mass Datura were initially formed as an outlet for Thomas Rowe and Joseph Colkett to channel their eclecticism, as the duo made a point of fusing their influences from grunge, alt-rock, doo-woop, blues and American folk.
With such a broad range of influences, as often happens, their pallet broadened even further, and the band grew arms and legs in the form of classically trained violinist and soprano Leanne Roberts, The Horrors’ guitarist Joshua Hayward, and Patrick Bartleet and Christy Taylor.
Their debut album, 2017’s Sentimental Meltdown, was a glam-tinged, colourful and chaotic slice of art-pop which was marked by a lack of discipline off-set by unbridled enthusiasm. Wish Untitled confirms chaos and irreverence are Mass Datura’s hallmarks, but they’ve progressed further down the timelines of history, choosing to plonk their Delorean in the car park of prog.
Rowe hails from Canada, with the band being based in east London, and the album was recorded in the French countryside and so sounds exactly like one made of these constituent parts would. At parts intentionally rudderless, achingly hip and pastoral, it throws a lot of mud to the wall. Not everything sticks.
The key reference point as the album progresses is MGMT, not least down to Rowe’s vocals; he evokes Andrew VanWyngarden effectively and most specifically on My Trash and Mr E, wrapping his mouth around every syllable sometimes breathlessly, enunciating and suffocating at the same time. Likewise, on the quirky Cats for Kings he sounds strangulated against acoustic guitars and mellotron.
Otherwise, Wish Untitled is something of a box of frogs. Clattering guitars come second to Rowe’s vocals in their frequency, popping up on the spiky Sutra Swoon Sutra, which riffs on Arctic Monkeys’ Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair before losing tempo to break down to a rattle accompanied by a banshee wail. The vibrant Eternally Sold Separately is held together by the powerful and clashing guitars, while the grandiose drums play their part on Seasonal Social Reasons before it too evolves to string-backed, slow garage rock.
Some tricks are redeployed too frequently: several tracks become something else entirely with silent breaks, so much so that you have to check the tracklisting to ensure you’re listening to the same song. On many others the band announce their presence all at once at high volume, a trick which becomes wearing – Lady Equal, despite containing a strong melody and chorus, suffers from having both tricks utilised.
Ocean Pink Meets Gutter Love fares better, with wonky strings and a driving, bouncing synth complementing the band at their most powerful. Closing track Spirit Coins features thudding drums and slow bass rising and falling in the mix before building and building to a space-jazz coda, and as such is the most successful encapsulation of Mass Datura’s modus operandi. Best of all is the track that comes before it; Maria’s Little Elbows is two minutes of concise gonzo rock, with a scuzziness and energy that the album could with more of.
But ultimately that’s what makes Wish Untitled a frustrating listen. There’s clearly talent at play, and some moments of genuine inspiration, but it’s not psychedelic enough to be inspiring nor melodic enough to be memorable, there just isn’t enough for a sustained enjoyable experience.