Strangers Like Us by Mav Karlo album review

Royal Mountain Records

8

Mav Karlo

Strangers Like Us

Even if you don’t know his name Menno Versteeg is responsible for bringing some of your favourite artists to your ears. The co-founder of Royal Mountain Records has put out albums from such wonderful musicians like Mac DeMarco, Alvvays, Orville Peck amongst many others. Also, as the frontman of the now defunct Hollerado, Versteeg has travelled all over the world spreading that bands carefree indie rock.

Now, under the name Mav Karlo,  Versteeg is releasing his debut full length solo project Strangers Like Us. Earlier this year Versteeg released an EP under the Karlo moniker called Reno Tapes. Recorded in a shabby little hotel room in Reno with an old guitar and a four track tape machine last Christmas, Reno Tapes found Versteeg struggling after a difficult 2019 and took off to decamp for nine days in hopes to find some catharsis through recording these songs. The new album, recorded at the iconic Sunset Sound in Los Angeles and Sonic Ranch in Texas by Producer Chris Coady (Future Islands, Beach House), steps up the fidelity but not the intimacy of the EP. It’s the sound of someone taking a long, hard look in the mirror and directly dealing with any of the flaws they see, while still keeping the proceedings totally head bopping.

Versteeg’s singing voice falls somewhere in between the lackadaisical stylings of Kurt Vile and the nasal intensity of Matt Sharp. In fact, the album’s lead track “Elevator” bares a certain resemblance to Sharp’s other band from the nineties, The Rentals. The song’s chiming guitar intro buoys Versteeg’s confessional lyrics perfectly before building into a soaring denouement with some lovely harmonies courtesy of Katy Goodman of Vivian Girls. The breezy, vaguely tropical vibe of lead single “Dig A Hole” showcases Versteeg’s wonderful way with a turn of phrase. Using the demolition of beloved Toronto landmark Honest Eds as a metaphor to unearth some old family drama is beautifully affecting. Versteeg easily jumps between power pop on tracks like “Record High” to the more stirring revelation of “Nurses And Priests”. Album highlight “Detonator” casually slips into your head with its laid back groove before fully setting up shop with an amazing earworm of a chorus. By the time we get to the closing track, “Treasures”, and its lilting guitar and easygoing pace, we’re been treated to a lovely and lovingly crafted journey of the last 35 minutes.

There’s a nice dichotomy to Strangers Like Us where Versteeg expertly balances wry confessionals overtop a candy coated soundtrack and it definitely works. While it’s hard to say what Versteeg was going through in his personal life to create these songs, hopefully he was able to find the catharsis to overcome them that matches the release we all get to feel just by listening.