Vancouver synth-pop duo Mu understands that the bitter can often make the sweet sweeter. Soundscapes with dreamy surfaces spun as delicately as cotton candy thinly veil their haunting lyrics underneath. It’s a combination that is simultaneously endearing and unsettling, with warm, lurching vocals punctuated by metallic synths. Since Francesca Belcourt and Brittney Rand’s self-titled release in 2014, the pair has garnered plenty of local attention as one of the most promising electronic acts in the city. The duo’s upcoming release, II, out on Vancouver’s own Boompa Records, makes palpable the hardest parts of growing up.
Munching on samosas in the late afternoon sun at Belcourt’s home, Rand reflects on their almost immediate connection when they met at the Waldorf Hotel. “I was in school for music production at Langara and I wanted to get into scoring for film, so I had started making this really ethereal music meant for scoring, but then I started thinking they were songs,” she reflects. “What they really needed was someone else, because I don’t want to be alone in my bedroom doing this. I want it to be a bit more fun.”
Now, Rand and Belcourt work in hand in hand. “It’s nice to have someone to tell you no, or encourage you—the positive and negative. The direction becomes much clearer when you have boundaries that are set by another person,” says Belcourt, dipping her snack into a pool of sticky chutney. “Or someone to kind of lead you and guide things,” adds Rand. “When I get lost, or when we are writing something, she can often fill in the gaps.”
Their organic connection is audible as ethereal synths weave through tannic beats underpinning the exposed, introspective lyrics on their lead single “Debauchery,” announcing that “debauchery ain’t what it used to be.” It’s a melancholy, jaded declaration for two 20-somethings to attest to, but being blue is not a concept that Rand and Belcourt shy away from. “We talk a lot about nostalgia and the painful aspects of youth,” says Rand. “There’s something empowering about being able to be sad. It’s something that’s just not encouraged.” But the tracks on II do just that.
Traversing through unfamiliar, frightening territory (as quite literally sung on “Deep Woods,” which evokes fairy tale-like imagery, as does the trope-heavy “Hunter in My Forest”), Mu’s songs are tragedies with heavy doses of drama, but presented with brave earnestness. It’s a balance that is most successfully struck on “Vampire”—an infectiously catchy and creepy song that follows our heroine as she runs from a bloodsucker’s grasp. The story is a fanciful version of what is actually a deeply real, personal song: the lyric “twenty dollars left to me/but you let me sing for free” hints at the often disillusioning realities of artist performance fees.
Mu’s penchant for theatrics extends to their live shows, led by the engaging stage presence of Belcourt, and is an element that the pair plans on expanding for their concerts in support of II (out February 12). “We want it to be more of an experience,” says Rand of their performances. “With electronic music, you need to have more than one element, more than one thing happening.” Of course, the tricks have to be backed up by real talent, and they have plenty of that, too.
For Belcourt and Rand, building a full experience is more about bringing together than distracting. “The lyrics and the themes in the first EP, and in the one that we’re about to put out, are really vulnerable,” says Belcourt. “It’s really like you’re in our world.” Mu’s world might be scary at times, full of monsters and magic, but it’s likely to have a happy ending.
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