REVIEW: Murals - Violet City Lantern

Kelly Kirwan

Murals is a band that’s been a long time brewing. The Louisville trio forged their friendship in the formative years of their adolescence, and then set off on their own personal journeys—enigmatically filled with “dips and turns”—before re-convening to strum together new-wave psychedelia. Back in 2012, they were cited as a Band to Watch by Stereogum, and this past year joined the lineup for the CMJ music marathon that’s scattered across New York City. Since their formation a decade back, Murals has been garnering a buzz for their chamber pop, half-baked vibe that’s now materialized into a full length album, released under Fire Talk Records. 

Violet City Lantern, the album in question, was written and composed in the band’s native Louisville, where they all live together in true artistic co-op fashion. Apparently their abode is tucked in a remote corner of town that has a rougher edge—a former childcare center that now, ironically, fosters jam sessions and perhaps the occasional hallucinogenic trip through the looking glass. The kind of psychedelia that Murals seems to be churning out—on their latest LP at least—leans more towards the sepia tones of folk than the neon fractals of pure-bred, golden-age rock. As a band they’re certainly dreamy, but in a way more reminiscent of the Beach Boys circa 1966 than a pupil-dilated, mud-caked romp on the Woodstock lawn.

The first, eponymous, single off their LP washes over you in gentle, slightly fuzzy waves. It has hollow percussive accents and inviting vocals that alternate between high-pitched choruses and low, murmuring bridges. "Violet City Lantern" is a song that’s centered on the idea of exploration, which comes to life in its music video—as bandmates Evan Blum, Jacob Weaver and Rob Monsma cross the threshold from a fairly ordinary (if antique-filled) room into a dreamscape rife with oddities and purple motifs. It has the feel of a Wes Anderson film—perhaps one made during the director’s experimental college years. “So long to starry-eyed faces / And then lowly dark spaces / Some brighter place to lay my head…” Weaver sings in a (violet) haze, and his soothingly-stoned delivery evokes the most serene kind of self-exploration I’ve ever encountered. It’s like Carroll’s Wonderland without the undertones of malice and worry.

It’s a theme that’s also embodied in their title, a reference to the Kentucky cave tours that have visitors retrace the steps of the cavern’s first explorers, two centuries beforehand (equipped with lanterns, of course). It’s actually a sly and fitting metaphor to attach to their album, which is essentially navigating the maze of their minds and musical styles.

Of all the gems on Violet City Lantern, "Long Bridge" and "Watching in the Dark" are deserving of particular mention. Murals has crafted a relaxing set of trance tracks for us to float across, and like all the best high school sweethearts, their music isn’t as ephemeral as a semester fling. Murals is the real thing.