I didn’t discover Houdan the Mystic through the Internet. Back in April, I went to an album release show for Providence, Rhode Island natives (and hometown favorites) Roz and the Rice Cakes. It’s not often that when going to a local show I find a truly extraordinary supporting act, but when three unassuming guys took the stage to open up for the Rice Cakes sporting tremendous beards, I found myself entranced by their unique presence. Houdan the Mystic were generally a quiet bunch – every bit of banter from their bassist, Ethan Kuhn, was full of absurdist quips spoken through a barely contained grin. They brought to the stage a feeling of wonder and bemusement and the growing crowd, to whom the three were entirely unknown (they hail from Richmond, Virginia; a far cry from the homogeneous and somewhat struggling Rhode Island indie scene), was entranced to give the three their tranquil and undivided attention.
When they weren’t entertaining us with off-the-cuff comments about donuts and strange voices, the air was filled with a beautifully ethereal sound that in some way contradicted their tongue-in-cheek persona, but in still a stranger way, seemed to support it fully. They transitioned effortlessly from tight, mathy compositions to slow, soothing post-rock in regular about-face turns, all the while maintaining an unshakable energy. Their songs seemed so fully realized, so conceptually sound, that the entire experience seemed to carry the flow of an Explosions in the Sky or Mogwai live show rather than the sometimes disjointed flow of math rock. The sparse, lightly sung, and mostly harmonized vocals further deepened the intense, fragile beauty of it all.
Being a drummer, I was consistently impressed with the technicality and inspired percussion coming from the Ethan Johnstone. His playing had all the signatures of excellent math rock and felt meticulously coordinated. While his technical skill was impressive, it was the loose, effortless way in which he managed to eek out quick fills between rhythmically fresh grooves that was truly extraordinary to watch. He and the only non-Ethan, guitarist Reid LaPierre worked so well together in moving from idea to idea that it seemed nigh impossible that the two were not a single entity. LaPierre, who spent the entire performance barefoot furiously working his pedals and loops with individual toes, created wonderfully entrancing soundscapes one moment and chopped up, stop-and-start math jams the next. The track ‘Chasing the Strobe’ is a particularly strong example of this, with an incredibly addicting slide pattern loop that I could (and have) listen to on repeat ad infinitum. This was all rounded out by a consistent undercurrent of strong bass tone from Kuhn, who was not content to simply make up the backdrop. The slow drawling riff played on ‘Cosmonaut Falls’ is some of the most prominent and frankly, unforgettable riffing I’ve heard come out of a bass guitar.
As you can imagine, it was a hell of a performance. I fully believe that this was the best possible introduction to Houdan’s music (and any music really); the organic experience of discovery as it unfolded in front of me, completely unexpectedly, makes my interpretation of the available album, Archer’s Jamboree feel that much deeper and more connected than I believe I could have gotten if I’d just found them whilst perusing through Bandcamp. The at-home experience is certainly comparable if you close your eyes and imagine a little. Archer’s Jamboree does an excellent job of portraying the feeling of Houdan. As of late, they haven’t played too far outside Richmond, so snatching up Archer’s Jamboree is your best bet at experiencing them for yourselves. There’s a pretty excellent interview/live session that you can check out here that captures them pretty well, and a video of the song ‘Sleeping or Worse’ here that has a slightly younger (and far less bearded) Houdan playing in the woods.
Houdan is featured in this week’s Tuesday Music Dump, which is focused on more folk inspired stuff. Folk is certainly a hot word right now, what with its effect on the college-radio indie scene. In some way I’m a bit reluctant to use the word to describe my experience of Houdan because of it’s connotation, but it’s a more helpful descriptor than it first appears. They’re certainly not as loud and powerful as some of their post rock influence, like Explosions in the Sky or Caspian, and not nearly as harsh as their prog-and-punk-inspired math rock brethren. The lyrics and vocals are a bit otherworldly and gentle, something one might expect from a folk outfit. The very gentle distortion and overall light guitar tone, mixed with Johnstone’s penchant for playing on the hardware is something that sounds reminiscent of folk, even if it lacks the banjo and singing saw. Fun fact as an aside: one of the other bands I saw that night had a singing saw and it was, as one would imagine, awesome.
According to their Facebook, Houdan the Mystic is working on another release and you can follow them for more information about when to expect it and how you can get your hands on it. It’s safe to say we’ll be covering it here on Fecking Bahamas, so keep your eyes peeled, and feel free to drop a kind word or two by their page after you download Archer’s Jamboree.