Perth’s Mental Powers have come quite a way since their hand-painted live recordings. From 2010?s self-titled CD-EP to last year’s HOMOH* debut (awkwardly, brought out roughly at the same time as UV Race’s *[HOMO](/releases/2000869)*), the four-piece have progressed from the uncultivated abandon of a searching acoustic organism to the pert synthesis of *Pro Bono.
At its core, Mental Powers has thrived on a unique interpersonal chemistry; a single entity that has changed and mutated along with its environment – be it a house party, a bar or a suburban Chapel conversion – and its instruments. You could hear it in the live tracks, revealing a project concerned more with the sonic conversation at hand than any static idea of limiting that discourse to physical format. So it is that the convulsive ritual of 2010?s ?Contador? and the aimless discord of HOMOH*’s ?Bodywash? gives way to the mechanical mantras of *Pro Bono*?s ?Mutual States? and ?Consumption Song?, while proving Mental Powers? output is directly related to their context. That’s not just because the prodding hustle of ?Club Foot? was named as a dual reference to drummer Jamie Doohan’s signature illustrations and synth-man Deni Muzaferovic’s broken leg, but because *Pro Bono itself is the yield of an actual studio.
Produced by engineer and musician Brendan Jay, government-funded and released through Perth label Badminton Bandit – also known for several early CD-R releases by Tame Impala offshoot Pond – Pro Bono is an astonishing step up in terms of arrangement and sonic clarity. Vocals are shared across all four members, as canted lyrics and abstract ideas shuffle over the multilayered elements of arrangements and ideas that exhibit an extraordinary depth. There’s the primitive echo and urgent polyrhythm of ?Communicate in Code? and the distracted broken-doll meanderings of ?Dream Shake?, while the odd rumbling sub bass or alternating channels add a texture to their sound that was previously absent. Meanwhile, Muzaferovic proves the indispensability of his voice in the giddy alliteration and nonsensical, though somehow consequential, babble of ?Europeanist?. Then there’s dreamy standout track ?Hopus?, with its swaying flute simulations and frisky xylophone embellishment, making it an instant classic comparable to fellow local fringe artist Stina’s timeless piano waltz ?Lune?.
While Mental Powers? embrace of the synthesizer for this release could be interpreted as a band hopping on a global trend, knowing their penchant for evolving in tandem with each other and their instruments, it’s probably more likely the result of access and availability to said hardware. After all, there’s much to be said for a band focused on process, exploring its boundaries within a consciously na’ve and, most importantly, natural mode of being.