Photo by Kasia Walicka Maimone
Jul 6, 2021
Museum of Love to release James Murphy-mixed ‘Life of Mammals’
The duo, an offshoot of LCD Soundsystem and DFA Records, discuss their 'late stage capitalist blues' and playing live shows again
It took seven years for Museum of Love to finish their second album, “Life of Mammals.” And the time they put in can be heard in the results. The electro-rock-slash-dance-punk duo composed of LCD Soundsystem drummer Pat Mahoney and DFA Records musician Dennis McNanany has, according to Mahoney, produced a “late stage capitalist blues” record, out July 9. And it is as eclectic as their own journey is far-flung.
“It feels to me like an evolution for both of us, and getting to explore things that we kind of only hinted at on the first record—like really needed to spend some time bringing to fruition and maturing,” Mahoney tells Brooklyn Magazine over, alas, Zoom. “It feels like a grown folks record.” Fans will get to experience the new songs during a DJ set at a release party at Elsewhere Rooftop in Williamsburg on July 23, the band’s first live show since the onset of the pandemic.
Music as painting; music as sculpture
Museum of Love originally met in 1999, but the pair grew particularly close after the death of a mutual friend in the late 2000s, around the time of LCD Soundsystem’s initial disbanding. When he was asked to do a remix for a song by fellow experimental rock group, Battles, Mahoney enlisted McNany, who had worked as an assistant engineer at Plantain Studios in the West Village. “Things just started to evolve,” McNany says. “We were both happy with the process.” Their occasional collaborations culminated in a full record, their self-titled first LP, in 2014, an album Mahoney described as more in the realm of “house music,” but still pulled from gentler new wave influences. It was the first time in his tenure as a drummer that he had decided to write his own songs and record his own vocals.
A lot has happened in the intervening seven years. Mahoney started a family, in between juggling on-again-off-again LCD Soundsystem commitments. McNany’s mother, a musician herself, passed away in 2015. The duo frequently worked remotely, sending song ideas back and forth to each other while in different parts of the world—much as the rest of the music industry would become accustomed to working once the pandemic arrived five years later. The resulting songs ranged in sound from eccentric and colorful proto-punk like that of Roxy Music to layered and hypnotic Krautrock-esque tracks.
Getting their hodge-podge of styles to work as a cohesive album proved both emotionally and creatively challenging, but both musicians, each with backgrounds in studio art, approached it like, well, artists.
McNany, who is a painter, viewed the songwriting process as similar to working on canvas, “because you’re filling space and coming and going and walking away from, in that case, an object, a visual object. It has to all speak to each other and be a whole.”
Mahoney dabbles in sculpting. “I’ve always played music and, I think, been attracted to what I guess you would call ‘art music’ for a long time,” he says. Though he’s played in bands since he was 13, he only just recently began learning how to read sheet music, an endeavor that’s opened doors for his songwriting. Using both traditional acoustic instruments as well as a slew of electronic synthesizers on “Life of Mammals” has led the band down the path they had envisioned when they began. “Being able to expand what music is and what it’s about has always been where we were coming from.”
A slightly more rock-based album than their first, “Life of Mammals,” which was mixed by Mahoney’s LCD Soundsystem bandmate and founder James Murphy, is avante-garde, but it isn’t unstructured or without purpose. The duo, both in their 40s, opted not to release a full album until the time was right, as opposed to a series of spread out singles.
“We are of a generation that have been brought up on records, the concept of an album and progression of songs is important ” McNany says. He used several of his late mother’s instruments and even mapped some of her previously recorded vocals through the keyboard so her voice could be heard on the album. “I think it ends on a very positive note.”
Keeping things local
Many of the songs on “Life of Mammals” began as initial title ideas or intriguing one-liners overheard by the duo as the city swirled around them. One song’s title, “Ridiculous Body,” was inspired by Mahoney’s overhearing of two young men discussing a woman on the subway, whose body they deemed, well, “ridiculous.”
“And I remember thinking to myself, like, ‘Have you seen mine? You want to talk about ridiculous. I mean, it’s ridiculous, the demands it makes on me’,” Mahoney says. “So that was the sort of seed of it, just to think about writing a song about our strange bodies that we have to carry around and deal with and have described and have objectified and be subjects of and all of those things.”
While “Ridiculous Body” sprang forth almost instantly, others marinated for much longer.
“It is surprising to me, after all these years, that you can have one particular song that you can just belabor and belabor and exist in your life for, you know, a decade,” McNany says. “And then there’s a song that started when I woke up at 4 in the morning, and it’s there and the idea is formed—that the two of those things can coexist, I think is very surprising, is one word, baffling, frustrating, are other words too.”
Mahoney continues to play with LCD Soundsystem, but this album, he feels, has provided a sense of ownership he hadn’t even anticipated.
“I’ve never made a record that was, like, mine,” he says. “I mean, it’s ours, but like where I was singing and stuff, and the first record was kind of almost proof of concept, but then I found it quite difficult to then decide what to do with it—you make a voice and then sort of start to carve out a little place for yourself.”
As they find their stride, both together and individually, Museum of Love have already begun looking towards the material that will make it onto their next album, plus making more plans to share the songs from “Life of Mammals” out at live shows. And in spite of the logistical challenges making the album presented over the last seven years, keeping things local has been important to the band.
“It’s difficult and it requires space. And in this city spaces are to come by, and it’s expensive,” McNany says. In the liner notes to “Life of Mammals,” the group thanks the bartenders at 68 Jay Street, a bar in Dumbo located below the studio the duo were working in at the time—they’d frequently go down for an after-work drink. Neither member is a New York Native—McNany grew up in New Jersey and Mahoney in the suburbs of Boston—but being here is, they say, a large part of what’s kept the music flowing in the face of hurdles.
“There’s also something that only exists in this city. This kind of energy, why you keep doing it. And you keep trying to believe that that energy is here,” McNany continues. “You know, the things that drew us to New York are not necessarily here anymore, though, sometimes, you have to just try a little harder to find them.”
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