Bem-Vinda Vontade is Mice Parade’s sixth record, but only it’s second with vocals. Handling vocals are an assortment of folks, including bandleader and main songwriter Adam Pierce, Kristin Anna Valsysdottir from the band Mum, Doro Tachler and Ikuko Harada. While Pierce’s vocal is a gentle baritone, Kristin Anna’s voice is a high-pitched, bird-like whisper, while the two other female vocalists both sing in that breathy little girl voice favored by ex-Belle and Sebastian member Isobel Campbell. These tiny twee vocals really hurt the album, taking you right out of the song you’re listening to with their preciousness.
The Mice Parade’s music is also quite precious, but not in an unbearable way.
Pierce and his band layer a host of instruments over acoustic guitars, including gentle synth lines, Rhodes piano, vibraphones and a grab bag of other acoustic instruments, including ones I’ve never heard of, like cajons (a Peruvian drum) and Hohner’s Pianets (an electronic piano). The result is an enchanting sound, built upon layering of instruments as opposed to chord changes.
But this enchanting sound can often make you wish that the album was entirely instrumental. Only on the heavier tracks like “Passing and Galloping,” “Waterslide” and “The Boat Room” are the vocals able to make a real impression. In “Passing and Galloping” Pierce’s low, vulnerable voice sounds almost identical to Pedro the Lion’s David Bazan. “Waterslide” rides on a wave of propulsive guitar strumming and Pierce’s gorgeous Casio SK5 playing, summoning up the anxiety and excitement a child feels on their first trip to the water park. “The Boat Room” is heavy with guitars and vibes and has enough bumpin’ backbeat to survive Kristin Anna’s chirping in the song’s first verse.
The album’s other songs have arrangements that are just too gentle or too slow to really make much of an impact. And while catchy vocal melodies might have made the slower, softer songs more approachable, Pierce seems hesitant to write anything too poppy. Another trait of the album that might turn off some listeners is the way it’s edited. It’s edited so that the songs string together, making it quite difficult to skip to certain songs. For those listeners (like myself) who love to listen to an album all the way through, this kind of editing is quite rewarding, but for those who like to skip around it’s bound to be cause frustration.
Overall, I recommend Bem-Vinda Vontade, mostly just because it’s so beautifully arranged. But I also feel like the album’s subtlety allows listeners to appreciate it over time. It’s an album you can pick up two years from now and discover all over again. Unlike the more intense records you were obsessed with and can’t listen to anymore, Bem-Vinda Vontade’s melodies won’t sound tired and its lyrics won’t sound trite. And that’s something anyone can appreciate.