I find it easier to be sure of myself when I’m in a known, familiar environment; I feel more confident when I know what I am doing and the people I am surrounded by. Perhaps that goes without saying—doesn’t familiarity often inspire a certain confidence?—but nevertheless in the past few weeks I’ve been thinking a lot about those ideas. To put this into context, I should mention that I’ve recently moved away from home for the first time. I moved out for university—I attend a small, humanities-focused school that’s near enough to home for comfort, but just far enough away for independence. And while I’m loving the new friends, classes, professors, places and ideas, the transition has been understandably overwhelming.
As I’ve been making my new home here, I’ve been turning to familiar objects and sounds to help me feel more comfortable and confident in my surroundings. Rough Master, the debut full-length from the formidable band Mauno, is one of the things I’ve been turning to most. The trio of vocalist and guitarist Nick Everett, vocalist and bassist Eliza Niemi, and drummer Evan Matthews is a relatively new band here in Halifax, but their songs (and namely their excellent split tape with Vulva Culture) have been one of the main components of my soundtrack this year. It’s also one of my new roommate’s favorite albums to play, and in the weeks since I’ve been here its tics, idiosyncrasies and rhythms have brought me a little more comfort in this new environment.
Everett and Niemi both sing in a soft, round cadence, downplaying the sharp edges of consonants with mumbles. These songs are perfect for singing or humming along to even if you don’t know all the words—the lyrics are surely of some import, but here they are performed with a languid, vowel-heavy manner. That’s not to say, however, that this album is muddy or one-dimensional; in fact, its songs are kinetic and danceable. Much like the topographic graphic on its cover, Rough Master is terraced: dynamic transitions like the one between “benny” and “pulses,” or even the loud-soft rollercoaster in the coda of opener “reeling,” are what give the record its special character. In fact, I see a lot of my own character in the way that these songs shape-shift; as I have been navigating my new life as a university student, I too have been oscillating between an outgoing, social persona and an intense desire for quiet.
The success of the album feels to be largely due to the interplay between these two ideas. For me, this is rock music for introverts and back-corner dwellers—on Rough Master, Mauno does their fair share of talking, but their most interesting moments come when the band chooses to reel back, indulge themselves and explore the inner workings of their craft.
Rough Master is out now via Mauno’s Bandcamp page.