Erie New Wave

Mystery of Two explore old-school art-punk on new album

Mystery of Two have re-ignited Cleveland's post-punk, avant-garage torch with their new, self-titled second album. After a blazing set at Ingenuity Fest recently, the threesome huddled in a small room nearby, sweating profusely and drinking warm beers.

Singer-guitarist Ryan Weitzel discusses the album's influences, playing with members of Pere Ubu, and running Exit Stencil Recording and the local label of the same name (which he co-founded). He points to the album's avian artwork and photos taken at Gordon Park, where the power plant attracts flocks of seagulls.

"Seagulls don't like birdseed," says Weitzel, explaining how they coaxed the birds into photos. "I don't know if you know this, but they like french fries — they love french fries. The one thing this record has produced is our knowledge of the seagull diet."

Each of the CD's 10 songs is a strange bird itself, painted with Nick Riley's scattershot drumming, Jeff Deasy's splatter-shot bass, and Weitzel's artful guitar work and absurdist warble. The band's debut, 2007's Arrows Are All You Know, was a similar experiment in art-school rock, with self-destructing melodies and a nervous flair for new-wave flavors from Talking Heads to the Voidoids. But Mystery of Two is a more complete package, focused on the band's love for dark and furious art-punk, infused with as much funk as feeling.

"We're kind of in this groove," says Riley. "I never thought about it being such a cohesive thing at the time. It's not a themed record by any stretch, and it wasn't intended to mesh together, but in the end, it feels like this complete whole. The first record was a lot of tossing things around for a while and it finally came together. This one was a lot more organic."

Riley and Weitzel have bounced around with various bassists, but the current lineup hasn't changed for nearly two years — and the cohesion shows. Live, the band feeds off individual energies, jumping back and forth from jangly polyrhythms to static-filled jam solos and epileptic start/stop dynamics.

"It's louder, tighter and looser, all at the same time," says Deasy. That translates to the album too, which kicks off with "Gravity," a tune that sounds like a demented version of the Poster Children's "0 for 1." Weitzel caterwauls like Ric Ocasek, singing cryptic lines like "Gravity is getting me down, floating around again."

"Even the language is more surreal," says Weitzel. "It's interpretive. I always like to hear what people think of the lyrics — if they can understand the lyrics."

Every song shines in a similar vein, welding the rusty hooks of '80s alt bands like the Feelies with the polished '90s grunge claws of Dinosaur Jr., creating odd, beautiful rock 'n' roll. The album will be released in both vinyl and CD versions on Exit Stencil. The label, co-run by Weitzel, Brandon Stevens and Paul Murphy, has become a sanctuary for all kinds of homegrown music: the psychedelic pop of the Dreadful Yawns, the punk rage of This Moment in Black History, the alt-rock of Hot Cha Cha. The label is also home to Home and Garden, a band that — in addition to Weitzel — features former Pere Ubu members Scott Krauss and Tony Maimone. While most people will lump Mystery of Two into that Pere Ubu art-rock category, the trio carries the style in new directions.

"We don't sound that way on purpose, but if people say that, I definitely take it as a compliment," says Weitzel. "I play with Scott and Tony, and that's great, but it's not something we actively pursue. I think it's just more of a sonic comparison than a mindset. In my mind, there aren't a lot of cities that allow people to produce the way they produce here. When things do come out, they tend to have that similar raw sound."

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