SPR! – “Mental Health” (2016)

I like to roll the dice sometimes when I’m record shopping. Usually the result isn’t all that exciting, though often it’s at the very least interesting. But sometimes I get lucky…

SPR!’s 2016 release Mental Health is one of those lucky sometimes.

This caught my eye last month when we were in Stockholm. I spied it on the wall at the Bengans shop, looked it over, and decided not to buy it. But it kind of stuck around in the back of my brain for reasons unknown (♠), so I went back a few days later and picked up a copy. It’s been patiently sitting on the “To Be Played” shelf awaiting its turn, which finally came to pass on an overcast and wet Saturday afternoon at the tail end of yet another business trip, with me finding myself feeling kind of strung out and just wanting to chill.

SPR!, however, had other plans for me.

I’m not entirely sure what this Swedish duo are up to, and based on some other reviews I’ve read I’m not convinced that anyone else knows either. Electronic and feedback-y and sampled and pulsating and undulating… it’s some genre-bending stuff, that’s for sure. There’s definitely an industrial vibe here, but there are also elements of drone and psych and noise and just plain old EDM. It feels like something Les Rallizes Dénudés might have done had then gone over to electronic music, particularly on the marathon trip-fest “Second Hand Smoke,” though truthfully comparing the Japanese psych masters to these Swedes is a pretty big stretch, if for no other reason than SPR! are incredibly intentional and deliberate about their sound.

While the seven songs take different approaches, there’s an undercurrent of incessantness to Mental Health, an unabated drilling into your mind. “Twa-Lif” hits you like some type of 1984-esque Orwellian fascist anthem, a totalitarian propaganda weapon that will break down your defenses and just leave you nodding in agreement to whatever you’re told. “Dymaxion Music” is unadulterated IDM, one of the few examples of traditionally beat-driven compositions on the album, and overlaid with hauntingly metallic-tinged echoed vocals that sound like their bouncing around inside your cranium. SPR! give us a bit of a reprieve on side B with the all-too-brief instrumental “Turn Your Illness Into a Weapon” before wrapping things up and coming full circle with “Dope Rider” with it’s blend of tinny beats and Middle Eastern influences and laser beams, like something Alejandro Jodorowsky would have used on the soundtrack had he directed a Persian version of Star Wars.

Mental Health is limited to 300 copies on bright white vinyl, and it’ll probably be tough to track down on this side of the Atlantic. Trust me, though, it will reward the effort and expense. If I did a Top 10 year end list instead of just a Top 5, I’m certain Mental Health would make the list. As it is, it still just might make it into the Top 5…

(♠) My working theory is that the record was somehow sending electromagnetic pulses into my brain, having created a psychic connection to me when I first handled it at the store. And since I forgot to pack my tinfoil hat on the trip, those pulses were able to enter my brain and make me obsessed with buying an album by a band I’d never heard of before. But that’s just a hypothesis, really.

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