by: katy mombourquette

The LA indie-rock duo Mating Ritual has released The Bungalow, a quirky album made for the summer of 2020 that we never got. Finished on the day before mandatory quarantine hit, the album plays like an ironic look at a world that at one time, we thought was for certain. Vaguely inspired by the duo’s east-LA home, The Bungalow deepens Mating Rituals’ already cavernous pool of influences by incorporating elements of Bossa Nova and Disco. Previously known as Pacific Air, brothers Ryan Marshall Lawhon and Taylor Lawhon have already released three albums in three years, as per their ambitious and assured commitment to releasing five albums in five years. These released albums, How You Gonna Stop It? (2017), Light Myself On Fire (2018) and Hot Content (2019) have amassed much praise from The Consequence of Sound, Billboard, and the like, and The Bungalow is sure to follow in these footsteps. 

“We wanted this one to be almost entirely light-hearted,” Ryan said about the album. To inaugurate this sentiment, The Bungalow offers the opening track, “Welcome To The Bungalow”, in which a jazzy backdrop radiates from your speakers, reminding one of easy-listening lounge music. Then, a slightly distorted voice begins to speak to you, to welcome you to “the bungalow.” He tells you that you’re “free to dance, if you’d like, or take a seat if that’s more your style.” His words are so specific, so vivid, and so personal. “There’s terry cloth robes in the bathroom if you need to wash the day off you.” It feels oddly unsettling… but certainly intriguing. 

“Welcome To The Bungalow” functions as a swanky interlude that introduces the next three songs on The Bungalow. As we move through the album, we see two more of these interludes and two more sets of songs. The first trio is a dance group full of funky basslines and groovy melodies that entreat the dancers visiting the bungalow to get on their feet. The next track, simply called “The Bungalow”, furthers the all-embracing mood of the previous track, the words “come over to the bungalow, I’d like to show you around,” sung by a chorus of voices that conjure up images of a man leading a happy group of followers to the fabled bungalow, with people joining as they move along. Infused with arcade-style electronic sounds and vivacious energy, “The Bungalow” leads right into the next groove-filled song: “Voodoo.” This track begins with some Mother Mother-like vocals followed by a grand string flourish that could be taken right out of a song from the 70’s, but simultaneously manifests the present with alt-rock guitars in the chorus. “Elastic Summer” adopts a reggae beat and a retro melody that sounds like synthetic stars, but still sounds undeniably modern, straddling the line between past and present. 

In another interlude we visit the street that the bungalow resides on– “The Third Steepest Street In America.” The jazzy drums and sax return, and the distorted voice continues to reveal odd and intimate details. It ends with an unresolved harmony and an upward moving melody to incite tension that diffuses into the next trio. “Unusual” initiates the three-track era of sweeping synths. It uses a drum machine and a thick atmosphere that surrounds a playfully disjunct chorus melody. The bridge is a colourful landscape with glittering synths and guitar. “King Of The Doves” may start with a clean drum beat, but soon enough some 80’s synth melodies enter the mix. The edge of the leading voice is coated with background vocals which are robotic, clear, and distorted at different times, creating a unique effect. After a guitar solo, a DEVO-esque bass pulses along, leading the track to its end. “Heart Don’t Work” is a slow tune with the disposition of a ballad, but it’s thickly layered with synths and Peter Gabriel-style drums that deviate from the classic piano ballad. As the lyrics say “I don’t know why my heart don’t work like it should,” it comes to attention that while this album may sound light-hearted, there are some deeper themes that are embedded in the lyrics to look out for. 

We return once again to the lively bungalow scene in “My Postmate Is Here.” We hear the same eerily familiar voice talk, but there is also a second voice warbling in the background. It’s words are hard to make out, and they distract from what the first voice is saying, making for the perfect transition into the final trio of songs. These songs are harder to categorize, on one hand they share a sound with the album as a whole and elements of the other two trios, but on the other hand they are unique. “Ok” has the least amount of synths. For a moment it feels like it has an attitude with the edgy, swaggering guitar and bass, but when you listen to the words– “we’re all just trying to survive” and “I’m asking why,” it frames things in a more humbled light. The line “I wanna know the way I used to feel the sunlight on my face” is amusingly relevant; while it’s not about quarantine, those who have been isolated in their homes these past months can certainly identify with it. This track is sweeping in the sense that the nature of the vocals make one imagine him on his knees in an open field, pleading to the skies, but it’s missing the heavy synth component of the second trio. “Raining In Paradise” is similar to “King Of The Doves” with its cool synth melody, but it’s less atmospheric. This track features my favourite vocal performance– the melody plays with a higher range and has challenging leaps that are navigated expertly. Finally, “Moon Dust” is slow, soft, and more tender than any of the previous tracks. It feels familiar almost immediately with its soothing piano part and recognizable melody. A lunar synth interlude makes this track true to its name. 

Although “Moon Dust” fits with the album overall, it shows how far the album moved from the opening track. It’s as though after your long day at the bungalow you’re beginning to grow tired and decide it’s time to go home. And of course, this cues a final interlude, titled “So Long, Los Guapos.” This interlude isn’t like the others. The distorted voice says “thanks for stopping by… until next time,” periodically throughout the minute and a half long track, but instead of the clear jazz sound, we get an atmospheric soundscape with guitar and some synth melodies. In some way, it feels like the perfect summation of all of the different tracks that are heard in The Bungalow

The Bungalow embodies the carefree nature and gaiety of the summer we might have had if Covid hadn’t hit. But with its heavy use of nostalgic synths and hints at retro styles, perhaps it also functions as a projection of how society’s tendency to yearn for the past in the face of tension in the present. When you hear Peter Gabriel-esque drums or funky bass lines from the ’70s, you’re transported back to a time when the most recent worldwide pandemic was the Spanish Flu. No matter how you feel about the past or present, however, The Bungalow is a party where the hosts seem to know you better than you know yourself.

Make your way over to the third steepest street in America and stream Mating Ritual’s fourth album in four years. 
“We are proud to present our new album ???? ????????? out now! Make yourself a daiquiri, light some incense, and enjoy the ride” — I like how quirky these guys are.