Belfast-based duo Lucy and Thomas Gaffney have recently joined a long and distinguished line of brother and sister sibling musical partnerships. The Carpenters, Angus & Julia Stone, and The Magic Numbers are perhaps amongst those who share similar musical traits with these newcomers; a dreamy, psychedelic alt-pop melodic quality, although the Gaffneys veer heavily towards the experimental and ultra dreamscape vista, wrapping broad themes of love, loss and escapism within a lush, if discernibly DIY, home studio set-up.
Their model good looks certainly got them some initial attention when they were known as Southern, and making some kind of folk-blues brew. They had a record deal, performed at a queue-round-the-block The Great Escape in 2014, and appeared in big brand name fashion shows. For one reason or another (serious illness in the case of Thomas) that didn’t quite work out and they reset themselves, moving back to Belfast from London, with a new name and started developing different musical styles, influenced by the likes of Radiohead, Devandra Banhart and Portishead. In essence they were working out who they really wanted to be, and that was to be more themselves.
Debut single ‘Waiting In The Desert’ was partially recorded initially with Mark Rankin (Queens Of The Stone Age, Bombay Bicycle Club, Adele). Originating as a simple folk song written by Lucy, before evolving in the studio, with chugging drums, a Manchester baggy vibe, jangly cascading guitar and, as elsewhere, lots of small experimental things going on, often well back in the mix. It’s a feature of the album; electronics, strings, background synth textures and random instrumentation such as a harmonica here, and a sax there, much of it performed by musician friends they drafted in, but none of it overwhelming or indeed jostling for space with the underlying lead vocal and melody. The baggy vibe continues with ‘Over This Before’, while current single ‘Gustav’ was written by Thomas, and based on Austrian Symbolist painter Gustav Klimt, inspired by his The Kiss, its dreamy pop recalling Belle & Sebastian and Phoenix.
Other highlights include the elongated lushness of ‘Far Away From You’, where The Velvet Underground meets Paisley Pop, and ‘Lazy Sun’, underpinned by drum machine beats, simple bass and sparkly rhythm guitar. It’s a little more urgent, but barely so, Mmode not seemingly able to rock out. Again, some indecipherable background conversation intrigues, adding to a vaguely lo-fi cinematic production sound.
Things get a little underwhelming around the middle, the band’s penchant for dreamy textures and jam-like rhythms, allied to a sleepy slacker outlook, not doing many favours. In typical album fashion, the closing tracks are some of the best, beginning with the wispy, and gentle piano-led ‘Fall Between Them’, where Thomas’ “Fall asleep beside me” is repeated a lot. Sleepy, yes, but the relaxing strings at the end this time add colour, and character. Sister Lucy then takes the lead on the relatively sparse tracks ‘Would It Be Wrong?’ and ‘Sometimes In Life’, both just acoustic guitar plus voices for the most part, but again the duo adding subtle musical interest as each song progresses, keeping the vibe dreamy.
There’s a gentle playfulness throughout Mmode, where dreamy psychedelic pop is the order of the day, and where nothing is too heavy or damn serious. It’s both its strength, and its weakness. You may want to shake it out of its occasional torpor, or you may want to bathe in its ever-so-slightly warped dreaminess. The choice is yours.