For Santa Fe music fans who pay attention to the bands and musicians who call our fair city home, it might not get more exciting than to learn a debut record from new act Hush Monster dropped suddenly just last week with literally no promotion beforehand.
Why, you ask, should you care so much? Simple: Hush Monster is a trio consisting of flamingo pink! songwriter Megan Maher and D Numbers/Ray Charles Ives members Brian Mayhall and Paul Feathericci.
Hush Monster is kind of like a local version of Traveling Wilburys in a way, which, yeah, is a bold statement, probably, but the record, dubbed Patience, is out now on Feathericci/Mayhall’s label, Mesa Recordings. It’s an excellent example of sounds from familiar musicians that hit upon touchstones with which we’ve become familiar—but that become a completely new sort of thing.
Take opening track “Fireflies,” wherein Maher’s soothing vocal work harmonizes with itself over layered percussive sounds and a calming bass line that sounds a bit like keys and synths. Those who know flamingo pink! know this voice, but it’s more expansive and rhythmically varied. Maher elongates phrases and fits melodies into the overall song in unexpected ways. She also makes the lyrics feel applicable to just about anyone.
“We still have so much to do,” she croons, suggesting that our best days might still firmly lie ahead of us. “I’ll be the door that you come home through/I’ll be those fireflies on the wall/I’ll listen closely.”
Three simple sentences that paint such a picture. Chills. These words could be a declaration in any sort of relationship, or, perhaps, a re-commitment; even an apology. Regardless, the listener becomes the cypher, and that’s something for which Maher has long had a knack when it comes to lyrics.
“Megan is an incredible musician, artist, songwriter, guitar player, but not a music producer,” Hush Monster’s Paul Feathericci, a mainstay of the local DJ, live band and production scene, tells SFR, “so it started with Brian saying, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to use our skills as producers to make a record?’ And I said, ‘You know what would be cooler than that is to just start a band with Megan.”
This was way back in 2015, Feathericci estimates, and early practices and writing sessions clicked immediately.
“We got together in Brian’s old house, and it was just bring some instruments, bring some percussion; Megan brought her guitar, a violin, and we just started taking turns making sounds,” he recalls. “She made a guitar loop that I chopped up and edited, Brian added a bass line; Megan has this incredible way of...we’re messing with the computer, and she’s quietly sitting there with her phone, writing down lyrics and composing a vocal melody in her head. We put her in headphones to record, and it’s as if she’s been working on it for weeks—she just sings these words we’ve never heard, with a completely fleshed-out melody, and nails it on the first take.”
That song, Feathericci says, is “Slow With Me,” the first Hush Monster ever put together and a standout track on Patience.
“You can be slow with me,” Maher reassures on the track, “I’ll hold both of our hands through the sighs.”
The vocals shift and phase across multiple layers and over simple yet catchy bass. Still, the multi-track harmonies of voice remain front and center. In a less capable band’s hands, something like layering vocals over all else could spell sonic emptiness or even self-indulgence. Here, however, it keeps our perspective locked on the words at play, and much like everything else Maher does on the album, they’re ideas we need to hear.
Things expand from those tracks into more sonically diverse areas throughout the record. It’s important to consider an album in the way an artist intended, but having listened to Patience for days now, it’s interesting to know that it works in any order. By the time you hit the eponymous midway point, for example, drums produced by local impresario Bill Palmer have become more jaunty and rocking beneath phasing guitar licks and those sweet Maher melodies and self-harmonies, but that doesn’t take away from the driving “Oooooooohs” on closer “Telescope.” In fact, fans of either D Numbers of flamingo pink! will find familiar territory on any of the songs from Patience, though one would be hard-pressed to assign the sound to either camp explicitly. This is the literal definition of the sum being greater than the parts.
“I think there’s a real openness to the process of what Hush Monster is,” Feathericci explains. “No one has pretense about what it should sound like, and what comes out of us in these creative songwriting sessions is what the songs should be.”
That’s an interesting take from a guy whose other projects have been meticulously plotted-out. D Numbers songs play almost like math problems—which is excellent, and I’ve got no notes for the band. Hush Monster, however, feels more intuitive and natural, particularly on the track “Perfect Self,” a borderline dance jam that would fit right in as the soundtrack to your life. That one, like so many others, is best listened to while staring off into space, mulling. With so much going on musically and vocally, Patience practically demands all your focus.
“It’s a new entity, and it is so rewarding to get to make something completely new that’s not borrowing from past projects,” Feathericci notes. “There’s just this ultimate respect and delicate touch that we didn’t even discuss...an unspoken cautiousness to be delicate with the process and to be have a ‘yes, and’ attitude about it.”
You might have to wait a bit to catch Hush Monster live. These tracks are complicated and feature more instruments than you might think (horns!), though Feathericci says that they might even throw together an expanded band to make the most of it. It’s definitely something they’d like to do, he says, it’ll just take time. For now, heed the record and have a little patience.