Release Date 09/06/2019
The labyrinth of vintage synthesizers surrounding Mwahaha on stage wasn’t the only thing buzzing around the band in 2015. The Oakland-based foursome -- multi-instrumental brothers Cyrus and Nathan Tilton, usually found on guitar and bass respectively; singer/lead synth wrangler Ross Peacock; and drummer James Murphy -- had worked the West Coast circuit and beyond for two years, sharing bills in the UK with the likes of Sigur Ros and earning the kaleidoscopic Krautrock of their self-titled debut album a swift reissue from Plug Research and co-signs from the Boiler Room, Spin magazine, and NPR. Unfortunately, when a band pushes themselves to the limit, burnout can begin to seem imminent; with summer approaching, as Nathan Tilton remembers it, “I already had one foot out the door.” Dejected, the other three members took an informal hiatus, making plans to reassess the situation after a few months while continuing to meet for occasional recording sessions.
But as John Lennon once sang, life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans. Cyrus Tilton was diagnosed with stage IV cancer in 2016; after bravely weathering a maddening year and a half of chemotherapy, he passed in the winter of 2017. In his final weeks, he marched in the post-election women’s march in Oakland and retreated to the mountains with his wife. While a general sense of frustration and unease gradually crept into the nation’s consciousness over the course of the last four years, Tilton also recorded numerous passages of guitar and sampler -- recordings which became the foundation of Mwahaha’s new album, Everything Hope Can’t Help.
In 2017, Nathan Tilton returned to the band in an effort both to honor his brother’s memory and to try to work through his loss. Piecing together and reworking various tracks from sessions dating back to 2012, the three-piece recorded Everything Hope Can’t Help with engineer and co-producer Emory Barter (Naytronix, Man/Miracle), who contributed guitar, bass, keyboard, and vibes as well as a host of innovative approaches. Most strikingly, Barter convinced Peacock to keep his vocals -- ordinarily multilayered and washed in reverb -- spare and up-front in the album’s mix. “It was incredibly nerve-wracking,” says the singer, “but it kept me honest.” In a celebration of Cyrus Tilton’s work as a visual artist, Lovers -- his darkly philosophical, monumentally sized sculpture of two locusts mating, scheduled to be donated to a major art museum in Sacramento -- is depicted in the album’s artwork.
Where the Mwahaha of their 2012 single “Rainbow Diamond” was carefree and colorful, Everything Hope Can’t Help finds the band necessarily more mature and focused. If the sounds on the band’s debut glittered and twinkled, this album’s palette recalls the monuments that late-period Joy Division used to build from sober, synthesized grays -- the sonic equivalent of granite or concrete. The loss of a friend, a bandmate, and a brother obviously informs this album; so does a sense of getting one’s shit together as one starts to glimpse the big picture. But however you choose to understand its title, the album is clearly not a meditation on hopelessness; instead, it acknowledges the painful reality of moving forward in the absence of -- in honor of -- someone you love.