Live Review: Mint Field at The Shacklewell Arms

I once read a review of My Bloody Valentine that described their sound as “playing a feeling”. I thought this was a rather apt description, representative of a place where genericisms like punchiness, lyrical wit, and trite chorus-verse formulae are displaced by something far deeper.

During the honeymoon daze that follows the attendance of a great gig, it feels like a disservice to apply the aggressive pragmatism of comparison often required when using the medium of text to talk about the medium of sound. However, it’s inescapable that one thing often sounds like another; we are, after all, only a product of our surroundings and influences.

Upon listening to Mint Field, it’s unsurprising that they have been compared to guitar driven shoegaze outfits like MBV and Slowdive, as well as ethereal dream-pop group, Beach House. Mint Field manage to straddle this divide without making the compromises that so often plague genre-spanners. The melancholic, cosmic dream-state is present and immediate, and manages to share a harmonic coexistence with their Kevin-Shields-esque wall of sound.

The combination is pierced by Estrella Sanchez’s haunting vocals (sung in Spanish) which seem to seep out of the speakers, carrying with them a passionate angst, transcending any barriers of language that may have otherwise been present. All of this is kept in check by the booming decay of Amor Amezcua’s drumming, which just manages to keep the sound tethered to a present reality; providing the soundscape its skeleton, bringing the listener back to earth with every beat and fill.

Mint Field have little stage presence to speak of, but they don’t need it. Illuminated by a couple of modest purple spots, dressed head-to-toe in black, and settled uncomfortably around The Shacklewell Arms’ crude stage (which looks rather like the set of a state-school Christmas play) they are calm, maybe even a little awkward. What follows from the count-in of Amezcua’s drum sticks is a staggering display of musicianship, sound carving, and sonic artistry that sounds welcomingly fresh, with subtle forays into 90s wailing roar.

Estrella and Amor

This is a young band, both Sanchez and Amezcua are 21, and while they do possess a modern sound, it seems to also be gently haunted by the spectre of shoegaze’s introspective nostalgia (and all the emotive tendencies therein). You feel emotion when listening, but without any recognisable foundation, without realising what (or who) you are longing for. You empathise without understanding why.

Mint Field didn’t play a memorable gig because of their entertainment value. They are not “spectacular” in the visual, showy sense of the word. Their music, yes, is large and powerful, but it is inherently passive. It brings about things in the mind of listener in the same way Mark Rothko intended when he painted his enormous colour fields. Dense, dreamy, free of delineation and figure. The comparison, which I have perhaps drawn rather clumsily, is that both represent art which probes rather than directly incites.

The lyrics do not tell you how to feel or what to think. There is only a wall of beautiful sound which is as powerful as it is gentle, and seems to somehow address you personally.

We caught Mint Field at The Shacklewell Arms in Dalston, midway through the European leg of their EU/US tour. They now fly out to Austin, Texas for SXSW.

Their new album, Pasar De Las Luces, is out now, released on Innovative Leisure.