On his website, South Dakotan Raj Dawson gives these descriptors for a music video he shot for “Glass Traditions”, the opening track on his eponymous EP under the moniker Mystery Pills: “kind of dizzying, not super exciting, and nice to look at . The out-the-window shot of the landscape rambling by certainly fits those terms, and they’re not too far away from the music on the EP either, though there are moments that are pretty damn exciting.
At times, the five tracks on Mystery Pills sound like the bedroom recordings of a collaboration between The xx and Wolf Parade’s Dan Boeckner. Dawson’s compositions work with the slinky guitars and insistent rhythms of the former, and his heartfelt, wild-eyed delivery echoes the latter. The opening track accomplishes this slick feat particularly well, electronic drums and shimmery tambourine providing the background for multiple layers of sinuous guitar slides. As if those two comparisons didn’t put him in good enough company, the vocals in the verses are reminiscent of The National’s “Anyone’s Ghost”.
But to chalk up the success of the EP to sounding like other artists would be to dismiss the haunted beauty that Dawson does so well. Though crooning that “it’s the worst I’ve felt in a while” on “Mayfield Station” isn’t anything groundbreaking, the delivery more than makes up for things, the tried and true sentiment delivered in a pitch-perfect yowling sigh. The clacking percussion and staccato guitar picking dance around his intonations, the whole thing an attempt to put the past in the rearview. That focus on the necessity of movement continues on “Valentudinarian”, Dawson insisting that “you can’t just wait until it’s over” over choppy piano, heady timpani, and lingering guitars. Nothing on Mystery Pills just happens but instead happens on a continuum, every point connected to plenty of others.
Though there are only five tracks on this EP, it’s an experience that bodes well for the future of Mystery Pills. Dawson crafts tunes that linger in dark emotional corners, analyzing tough times and thinking aloud at how those times came to be. The analysis isn’t wallowing, though, as his ability to counterpoint these low moments with startlingly evocative rhythms and melodies call out for a full-length follow-up.
Essential Tracks: “Glass Traditions”, “Valentudinarian”