It’s a musical fact of life that there are some bands that are simply better live than they come across on their recordings, and vice versa. Yet Berlin’s mOck, a post-rock trio whose membership includes bassist and vocalist Frederik Knop, drummer Conrad Rodenberg, and guitarist Felix Zimmermann, is one of the bands that defies this otherwise universal truth.
Of course, this only recently became clear with the March 30 release of the band’s first full-length. Although mOck played its first show more than three years ago, and has released a handful of splits in that time, the album serves as the premiere cohesive glimpse at the group for anyone who hasn’t yet had the privilege of seeing mOck live.
And considering the way in which the album was recorded – live – it makes perfect sense that the recorded sound directly corresponds to that live experience, placing mOck squarely among the ranks of bands that somehow manage to be consistently consistent. This debut, unsurprisingly self-titled, boasts 16 tracks, of which six are more interludes than anything else, clocking in at no longer than a minute-and-a-half each. The remaining 10 form a solid albeit poetically conflicting impression in the mind of the listener of what the mOck sound is: angular yet chaotic, aimless yet precise, sonorous yet precious.
From the moment the first track begins, Zimmermann’s guitar playing establishes itself as that which most prominently drives this music forward, with theme and variation-style riffs simultaneously proclaiming and ensconcing the band’s trademark sound. Rodenberg’s percussive stylings are hardly vanguardist, but the frantic embellishments and deliberate breaks throughout the songs create an edge of anticipation, with frequent polyrhythmic moments bringing juxtaposition to the forefront. And Knop’s bass playing underlies it all, subtlety providing the music with a backbone, sometimes echoing the pattern of the guitar, and other times jutting up against its grain. But it’s his vocals – effortlessly meandering in and out, under and above, the sound – which provide the melodic basis for many of these songs.
And it’s there, in the melding of these elements, that one discovers mOck for what it is. The fundamentals of a jam band are there, yet mOck is clearly anything but. Still, on successive listens to the songs, it’s easy to form a picture of how the interlocking textures in the music were somehow both accidentally yet deliberately pieced together. Not only that, but the stylistic influences in the mOck sound are overwhelmingly clear. Even songs like “An Hour from Now,” “Montreux,” or “Mind is a Pit of…” with their mid-point breakdowns (at 2:23, 3:48, and 2:23, respectively) are designed so that the listener knows what to expect but is still surprised when it arrives. This is math rock, after all, and mOck wants to let you in on the answer, but you have to do the calculations on your own.
All in all, there is a held-back sense of urgency permeating this album; it’s the kind that makes you excited, although you don’t quite know what about. It’s a labyrinth of tonality, with something slight, yet disparate, hiding around every corner. It’s a late summer afternoon, half-drunk, inadvertently lost in a looping, elaborate daydream.