Mandala offer a Basement Flower Bouquet’s worth of tasty licks and raw power on new LP

If you wanna skip straight to Mandala’s song-by-song liners notes (and who could blame you, they’re excellent!) then simply scroll down to after the jump…

In his magnum opus The Prelude or, Growth of a Poet’s Mind; An Autobiographical Poem, no less an authority than OG emo poet William Wordsworth (straight outta Cockermouth!) proclaimed poetry to be the spontaneous overflow of powerful emotion recollected in tranquillity but the rock combo known as Mandala (straight outta Waterbury!) take a slightly different tact on their third LP Basement Flower Bouquet with its spontaneous overflow of powerful emotion recollected in tasty licks and tasty grooves whether tranquil or tempestuous…

…and it’s those licks and grooves that really do the trick—plus some of whatever was in those red cup “blooms” on the cover if any’s left over—since not too many people read 300-plus-page autobiographical poems in blank verse these days with most being more inclined to find emotional release in a near hour’s worth of sleek-yet-grungy, aching-yet-uplifting pop-rock songs that draw upon a musical menagerie of influences…

….including (warning: highly speculative!) Byrd-y folk rock, jam band jammage (minus the noodling!) and Southern rock boogie crossed with psych and prog, jazz and R&B, garage and indie with a dash of doo-wop/girl-group pop for good measure especially on “Lucid Dreams” which compares favorably with the Ronettes in the “woo-woo-woo” backing vocal department…

…and here’s a pull quote if you need one: “Mandala are the rare rockers today who are able to move between extremes of smoothitude and shreditude with ease and assurance” and just check out “Better Now” if you don’t believe me opening with a slow tom-tom beat (Sean Connelly) and a loping bassline (Matt Rosano) that for a couple seconds sounds like a lost outtake from Sly Stone’s dystopic blunted-out-soul classic There’s A Riot Goin’ On but then the mood shifts with the arrival of shimmering, suspended guitar chords and playful vocal interplay between co-vocalists Morgan Fasanelli and Abe Azab…

…who banter back-and-forth in a state-of-the-relationship scenario something like an indie rock “I Got You Babe” except more like “I Lost You Babe” ammirite and compared with Sonny & Cher’s tuneless bleating (just joshing, we love y’all!) the vocals on “Better Now” are by turns supple, nuanced and powerful perfectly mirroring the song’s musical progression which starts off smoooooth as Smoove B hitting on Christine McVie back at an office Christmas party which you’ve probably guessed is an imaginary scenario…

…up until the head-bobbing, foot-stomping, super-hooky chorus that is culminating in some tasty-lick-heavy-shredding by either Abe Azab or Chris Desiderio (sorry, not sure which, but check out the end of “Snake Song” for even more intense shredding) and a brass counterpoint all of which no doubt took some serious work to arrange while still retaining the emotional spark that gave the song its impetus in the first place which is exactly what Wordsworth was getting at I think…

…a balancing act that for bands requires an almost extrasensory level of shared intuition between musicians to pull off which Mandala pulls off with aplomb on Basement Flower Bouquet no doubt in part thanks to their having “spent over 365 days jamming in the basement” where Mandala rehearse and hang out “organically creating the music” before collectively moving to LA to record this according to Morgan with Sean chiming in that the experience was “life changing for the better…who knows where we’d be without it” and if a band can actually spend that much time together without it turning into Season One of Yellowjackets then it’s a band I haven’t been in yet but would like to be…

…but then I’ve never been in a band where one of its members (Morgan) lends shelter to another member (Abe) who’s been left homeless for several months before leaving for college and using the time together to further fine-tune their musical alignment and now I can see why the band is called Mandala seeing as mandalas are all about mental/spiritual alignment (get those chakras balanced, baby!)…

…and those Buddhist monks who sit for hours or even days arranging colored sand into intricate geometric patterns only to sweep it all away when they’re done aren’t that different from indie musicians sitting for hours or even days arranging tone-colored sounds into intricate patterns of licks, riffs, and grooves in order to form a larger entity serving as an aid to mediation or a “psychologic expression of the self” or a means to “transform a universe of suffering into one of joy” which is roughly what “Thought We Could Bloom” is about and it’s got the perfect sound to match, a shot of sunshine pop that rocks as satisfyingly as Blind Melon’s "No Rain" which ably helps get across its message of staying afloat in a sink or swim world…

…and finally one other thing people associate with madalas is "hippies" hoping to catch a wave to the next astral plane via mystic doodles or at least to end up with some nice wall hangings and Mandala’s Morgan embodies this ‘60s/‘70s hippie chick sensibility beautifully with her biker-mama-in-training (editors note: speculative) mirror shades and whirling-dervish-with-a-tambourine stage presence like she’s the secret lovechild of Janis Joplin and Robert Plant with Steve Nicks as her godmother and Helen Reddy as her emotional support Canadian if that makes any sense…

…which would help explain her impressively agile whispy-ff-to-gritty-gravelly vocal range as well and the flower child frequencies heard in much of Mandala’s music more generally across the spectrum of peace-sign flashing groovitude to the occasional Manson/Altamont/Kent State acid flashback like in the outro of “Snake Song” which would be right at home played over the PA at a Hogs, Halter Tops, and Huffing Biker Crank convention not that the clean-cut young adults in Mandala would ever attend such an event just witness their notes on track #6 below and stay off the dope kids…

…but hey enough of my yakkin’ cuz who wouldn’t wanna hear from the band themselves about what these songs are about and how they came about and lucky for all involved Mandala were kind enough to provide some substantive annotations for each of the album’s sweet sixteen tracks so settle in for the ride while we pop Basement Flower Bouquet into the van’s eight-track and all you need to do is lose yourself in the tasty licks and groovy grooves and stirring lyrics within while learning some behind the scenes details while we drive our windowless van down by the river and nevermind the Rambo-style hunting knife or the oil drum full of hydrofluoric acid in the back they’re for my nephew’s school play. (Jason Lee)

1.) Cowboy Classic

“Cowboy Classic”, as the studio version, is a song that developed over time. Theintro was actually thought of by Morgan after being inspired by A$AP Ferg & Rocky’s “Pups” track. We wanted to set the tone for the record, ring the alarms cause mandala is coming. Opening the entire record with the line “Don’t you call me anymore” this record is personal. The entire record of “Basement Flower Bouquet” lyrically written with passion by Morgan Fasanelli, Abe Azab, Chris Desiderio.

2.) Better Now

Written by our lead singers Abe Azab and Morgan Fasanelli, Abe brought us this song just on an electric guitar. The development of the bridge and the horns section was orchestrated by our drummer, reaching out to local musicians from Connecticut to bring this record together. Keeping with our whimsical attitudes, the video for this was the first one we shot after moving out here to LA. Directed by a friend we met here, we’re trying to continue with our gorilla antics going all over the state to shoot these scenes of Morgan on a date with a mannequin in public. The song itself, written by Abe Azab and Morgan Fasanelli, is about growth – a constant theme in Abe’s focused writing, whereas Morgan writes in freestyles & jams, or as written poems translated. All mostly focusing on the past, and the future, with Better Now being their touch on the present.

3.) Cyanopsia

What started as a 9-minute synth jam, the lyrics “Here I am begging for change, Here I am calling your name. I can see in the lights, when you hide” flowed as a freestyle from lead singer Morgan Fasanelli, which is how the group writes most of their songs. The song then transitioned to what the group refers to as the start of this record, being one of the first songs they began to demo in their home studio. “I can remember the first time we played this song live, we were in Brooklyn, and I was scared. I was scared to play the song because it felt like something we weren’t supposed to share. But we did, and it was beautiful. I named it Cyanopsia, because It was at a time where I was feeling very blue. So after some research, as psych majors do, I thought okay, babies can have a yellow tint on their eyes, I had that – I wonder if you can have a tint of blue? Low and behold, Cyanopsia is a medical term for seeing everything tinted with blue. It is also referred to as blue vision.” – Morgan Fasanelli

4.) Lucid Dreams

“I could be someone that you knew back then. When I wasn’t cool, wasn’t good enough for you” – Lucid Dreams feels like our anthem song on the album. With a punchy strong chorus from Abe Azab screaming “I paid my price. Started working on my family ties. If an offer’s waiting on the table, are you working on your spite” this song is genuinely about high school. It’s about reflecting back and recognizing personal growth, as we call it a “glow up”. “And if I act elusively, it’s cause I’m slipping in a lucid dream” – basically saying, when someone starts acting up when they have a dream on their mind or feel larger than life. Everyone in the group has their own story, and we try to remind each other of where we came from.

5.) Party Girl

“If these walls could talk, they’d say the truth. Or in other words, the things they’d say to you” – Party girl is about miscommunication. The root of most problems and the root of the feeling of frustration for lead singer Morgan Fasanelli, especially in queer relationships. This song feels like a lost love, something bittersweet. When the bridge breaks down and Sean Connelly, drummer of the group, is wailing on the cymbals and Morgan is screaming “History, and bullshit, and feelings aside, these walls know my secrets and they’re on my side. I bet you didn’t know that. All of the history and all of the lines, you tell your stories I will tell mine. BUT I HOPE YOU’RE DOING REALLY GREAT RIGHT NOW” – then we kick back in on four hits. Giving the perception we’re talking to somebody directly. We released this song as a hit single for this record and it’s doing pretty well right now!

6.) I’m Not Into Dope

A very old Mandala song, originally written in 2015 – it began as a release of emotion over one of our close friends becoming heavily addicted to drugs. Many fans of ours fell in love with the song, but we’ve never worked on or released a full studio version until now! With haunting vocals, the opening lyrics sing “Last fall, you said you’re coming home from war” – as in coming back to reality from a binge.

7.) Thought We Could Bloom

“Thought that we could bloom from just the sun in your eyes, I know I’ve got a tight grip like it right by your side. Just doing what I’m told, daddy said hold on tight. Sink or swim world. Don’t drown without a fight, hello!” – another freestyle from Morgan, which started just her and her ukulele during quarantine while she was in NYC for school. Throughout that time endless voice memos and zoom writing meetings took place between her and guitarist Abe Azab, and Abe Azab and Chris Desiderio – who at the time was in LA for school. For this song, and others written via phone like “Connecticut” – written by Chris Desiderio. The outro of “Thought We Could Bloom” was also a part cultivated on Morgan’s ukulele that bassist Matt Rosano and guitarist Abe Azab made their own, in a luigi’s mansion kind of way that we loved.

8.) Connecticut

What’s interesting about “Connecticut” is that it was written by Chris in LA, it’s almost like a breakup song with the entire state, or a girl, but it became our breakup song with the state as we were moving away. We love CT, and we miss it every day we’re out here, but we just wanted to travel our sounds to the west and try to expand our fanbase for a couple years….wink wink! We thought it was a good single to release as our first song back after our move to LA, an ode to our home. The music video, we actually got to shoot in CT while we were home recording, after living in LA. The cover, we shot in LA! Love to trick people.

9.) Never Forget

“Never Forget” is a song that came about right in the basement during our recording process. When Chris came home for a session, we all had a bit of a frame for the song and everything came together in like 20 minutes between melody, instrumentals, and lyrics. Our bassist at the time, Matt Rosano, had some very sick ideas for D&B between him and Sean that really helped us find the flow. Singing of having no money, constantly drinking, and eating poorly – Morgan takes inspiring words like “Should I fly by or try to, get better without a clear view” to uplift listeners. Rounding the song off with group vocals singing “I don’t know if it’s getting any better, but i know that I might be okay”.

10.) On & On

A song Morgan started in 2018 as a ukulele demo while living in New York, it was presented to the group during quarantine as just a little diddy and grew into an explosion of emotion. The track on the record you will hear Morgan playing her baritone ukulele to start it off, and the instrumentals – drum and acoustic were actually taken as a live take. We felt it had more energy and we could quite get the timing right doing it like studio robots, so we tracked it live and it came out awesome. Reminiscent of grief and longing, this song holds very close to Morgan’s heart.

11.) Starships (It’s Going Down)

The one-two kicker of the record, with a super fun turnover. This song is very surf-rocky in our opinion. The four or five of us, really whoever is around, would all meet up in the basement in New Britain, CT – aka our “home studio”, and we would just play and play and play. The vision for this song was literally – lighter hitting the fuse, rocket ship taking off, us feeling like we don’t know what to do, crash landing on an alien planet and then needing help. We took those feelings and tried to let them guide us, but all of that kind of happens at once while we’re jamming. We’ll turn and be like “feels like this..” and then go onto a story. Chris, directed our music video for this song, and was able to shape those feelings into a visual for us!

12.) Ruby Red

One of the most organic songs on the record, this came about within 20 minutes of riffing on the guitar. Morgan, Abe, and Sean spent all of 2020 as neighbors – able to jam whenever necessary and this one just came about one day. Not usually focusing on the happiness of everything, Ruby Red is a new sexy side of Mandala. Morgan wears a red ring, from her partner – and wrote this song with her in mind, the gag is….her ring is a garnet! Guitarist Abe Azab directed and shot this video, with the rest of the group Morgan, Sean and Chris – producing and doing stagecraft and costumes. Ruby Red Official Music Video

13.) Wishing & Waiting

One of our favorite’s off this record, this song was written at 4am by Abe and Morgan one late night while she was in town for a string of shows. The cultivation process of a song is very important for us. We aren’t a band sitting down going let’s write a song for this, or trying to sound like this. We just play what comes out and usually go from there tweaking it. Normally starting as freestyles, or riffs Morgan and Abe get together and they have the magic touch. Our touring guitarist Michael Baz executed the solo for that song while we were writing as a full group, and we were like “this has to be on the record. It makes us feel something”. Another song inspired by queer love this song touches on just how close the queer community is, and the worldy joke that everyone tries to stay friend’s with their exes.

14.) With or Without You

One day after a show in CT in 2017, Chris and Morgan went back to his place to jam instead of hang out and party, typical post show moves. They sat by the fire with his dog, trying to write some songs and started this beautiful melody. Dedicated & Inspired by Chris’ father Jeff, who had passed shortly before we started writing, this song is about getting by. A bit of a hollow feeling to it. In the studio we were able to get the drums so shimmery on the chorus’ – it’s one of our favorite sounds on the record.

15.) Snake Song

A song that started off as a freestyle demo between Morgan and Abe soon turned into a sneaky little rock song. One of the more intricate drum tracks Sean did. “We were just trying to catch a vibe writing this song, once that first mysterious riff played, we thought this is like a slithering snake” – Sean Connelley says. The entire song is like a slithering snake, and then it explodes into the chorus, but sneaks back down again – and explodes into a guitar solo inspired by the late Eddie Van Halen.

16.) Piece of My Love

The closer on the album, it just felt right. We spent over 400 hours having fun at Pharaoh Studios, and we were able to add all of us clapping and cheering for ourselves after finishing this record, which you can hear at the end of “Piece of My Love”. This song is the sweeter side of Mandala, with harmonious vocals from Abe and Morgan, we were able to just flow on this song.