Mauno
Really Well

by Jim Di Gioia

August 8, 2019

Mauno’s latest is a deeply satisfying album that explores the comedies and complexities of social interactions and never takes itself too seriously.

What Really Well — the latest album from Montreal-based, Nova Scotia-bred Mauno — does really well is to dispel the notion that serious artistic endeavours need to be married to grand and resolute themes and concepts. Starting work on the album, Mauno say they went to it within a rigid framework: “to make music that also served as a kind of sonic experiment. As we started actually recording and putting down the tracks, we quickly realized that there was no framework that would fit that wouldn’t seriously constrict the flow of the album or conflict with the feel of the songs.” So they did what any good, self-aware artists would, and freed themselves of preconceived ideas and allowed the music to dictate its own development. The end result is a deeply satisfying album that explores the comedies and complexities of social interactions and never takes itself too seriously.

Opening with “Really Really”, the album’s de facto namesake, vocalist/bassist Eliza Niemi plays up the fallacy of small talk by contrasting her clipped delivery with sing-song passages. The song is a little bit jangle-pop, a little bit jazz, and a little bit math-rock, never settling in one vein for very long, much in the same way the brief interactions Niemi sings about can sound as if two people are making a connection when in reality nothing about the encounter will linger in their memories for long.

“Half It” finds vocalist/guitarist Nick Everett revisiting similar lyrical themes in a punching alterna-pop setting anchored by drummer Adam White’s timekeeping: “First time that we called the thing off I was half-way to broken / Second time was the same thing again the third and the fourth time again and again now.” Everett sings with a droopy detachment, half-way between sadness and just not giving a damn that finely matches the song’s slacker aloofness note-for-note.

Shot throughout Really Well is Mauno’s dry sense of humour, an undercurrent of satire masquerading as self-deprecation that provokes thought and discourse. It’s there in the sardonic tone of “Vampires” and the intense conversational delivery on “Notice”, a song revisiting workplace violence and abuse. 

Whatever sonic experiments Mauno engaged in at the start of working on Really Well translate into highly engaging music in the finished product. There’s much to explore as the band casually tries out a number of musical ideas. Far from being a scattered-sounding recording, Really Well actually gels, er, really well. Sadly, the distracted and disengaged will miss Mauno’s subtleties and substance entirely; skimming the album’s surface and only picking up on talking points misses the most integral point of Mauno’s art: that neither process or product has to be tied to convention.

Sadly, as this post was being prepared for publishing, Mauno announced their decision to go their separate ways. Their final set of shows will be this weekend: tonight, August 08 in Ottawa, ON at SAW Gallery; Friday, August 9 in Toronto at the Horseshoe Tavern, and Sunday, August 10 in Montreal, QC at Bar le Ritz.

Jim Di Gioia

CoFounder at DOMINIONATED
Jim founded the music blog Quick Before It Melts in 2006 and was its principal writer until 2016, when its decade-long run ended 10 years to the day it started. DOMINIONATED is its spiritual successor. Jim currently serves as a Polaris Music Prize jurist and Prism Prize jurist.
Jim Di Gioia