It's a Mystery

Very
occasionally, this critic can get it all wrong. Looking at the
bespectacled electronic trio (black rectangular frames, black
rectangular frames, and ’80s nerd chic frames) with their unobtrusive
fashion (jeans, jeans, and khakis), I drew a few conclusions. Later, I
asked keyboardist Ryan Olcott whether I had Mystery Palace figured out.

Erin Roof: Are you vegans?

Ryan Olcott: No. We’re conscientious about what we eat, but no.

ER: Do you drive hybrid cars?

RO:
I wish we did. That’s a good goal. But, unfortunately not. I’m driving
a mini van right now, and it gets OK mileage, but its a far cry from
anything economically and environmentally sound.

ER: Do you appreciate Moby for his technique?

RO:
I hope Moby doesn’t read this. I respect him, but I’m not a fan of Moby’s
music. We were labelmates for a little bit, but no… I have a loose
affiliation with Moby, very loose, he wouldn’t know who I am.

In
other words, no. I struck out. Then again, it’s difficult to fit
Mystery Palace into the neatly manicured categories music writers love
to use. The laid back electronica sounds a lot like Hot Chip if they
took a night off from the club hits. The music blurs the line between
ambient techno and pop, yet it’s not either. With live drums, a
keyboard, and a bass, it’s an odd conglomeration to tack any label onto.

"We’re
kind of in between this experimental faction and pop," Olcott explains.
"We’re just treading this fine line of what our audience is."

This
is the biggest problem, he says. Music lovers tend to like one genre or
another. For a hybrid band like Mystery Palace, it can be difficult to
find its footing.

"[Our
audience are] the experimental electronic kids that appreciate a pop
song and really like it," Olcott says. "But for the most part, those
kids don’t. They want to hear atonalities and dissonance and what not.
Even though that’s where we come from, we’ve kind of alienated that
crowd almost because we’re kind of a pop band. But the pop scene is
still warming up to us because we’re not like a guitar band."

If
the band had to drag around a genre, it would be that catch all phrase
"indie" because, as Olcott happily espouses, Mystery Palace has its
main component: a lack of technique.

"A
key thing in indie music is that element of innocence I think that
really connects with the indie crowd," he says. "That charming sense of
‘We’re just having a good time, but don’t know what the hell we’re
doing.’ That’s the endearing quality of indie music. Me, personally, I
lack a lot of keyboard technique. Ask me to sit down behind a piano and
play an A tune and I’ll be like, ‘What?’ We lack the element of
technique, but we also have a great amount of technique. I have a
technique as a producer to create a sound, to envision a sound. As far
as, like, playing, performance technique, I’m about as indie as it gets."

One
aspect that does define Mystery Palace is its penchant for
experimentation. Olcott employs a method called circuit bending, which
he describes as "the art of the creative malfunction." Much like
classical composer John Cage plucked piano strings and discovered
methods of playing instruments outside their intended uses, Olcott uses
a rewired keyboard to elicit the strange "clicks and bleeps" that
anchor his music. While Mystery Palace’s songs may be bleeping, they
are not bleating. It’s music that could accompany listeners throughout
the day– happy to be the soundtrack to morning cups of coffee,
commutes, and lingering moments before sleep. It’s about enhancing life
through layers of stark emotion. It’s not flashy, but it’s not to be
ignored.

It’s non-confrontational, just like the band’s approach to its performance.

"I’m
never the guy on stage who’s hyping the crowd or getting in people’s
face. I’m just not into that. It’s cheesy," Olcott says. "I try to be
as mellow as I possibly can on stage. The way I write is pretty abstract
lyrically and musically, so any emotion I would portray on stage would
definitely have an influence on how people connect to the music. I
don’t want to do that. I want the music to kind of like evoke a
response on a personal level. So the way I act on stage, the way we all
act on stage, we downplay it all because we don’t want any of that to
misrepresent the sound."

Whatever genre-bending style Mystery Palace plays, it’s the music that matters.