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From the small prairie town of Gimli, Manitoba, Mise en Scene is founded by BFF art school dropouts Stef and Jodi. Known for their whirlwind of rock-rooted, reverb-drenched dream pop that perfectly meshes modern vibes with vintage charm, Mise en Scene has turned heads on the stages of major international festivals around the world. Daydreaming decadence and jam-packed dancefloors, they bring a raucous symphony of rolling thunder drums and Rickenbacker riffage with a bark that matches its bite.
“Reality bites, and it hurts every time.”
So sings singer/guitarist Stefanie Blondal-Johnson with her signature swagger amidst the title track of Mise en Scene’s latest EP, and if there’s a single, consistent thread woven through the ripping alt-rock duo’s output since their 2012 debut, it’s that she and drummer Jodi Dunlop can take everything that hurts – or inspires or confounds or elates – and shape undiluted emotion into something utterly captivating like the six songs comprising this dynamic collection.
“We’ve always wanted to help people feel empowered for feeling the way they do,” asserts Blondal-Johnson about Mise en Scene’s compelling lyricism and correspondingly cathartic musical accompaniment, “and this experience – this ongoing global pandemic – has been a real unifier for all of us in that regard.”
Reality Bites found Mise en Scene working with producer John Paul Peters (Begonia, Comeback Kid) at his studio, Private Ear Recording, in their shared home city of Winnipeg, and while most of its material was written prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was cut amidst its inherent uncertainty and unrest in the summer of 2020.
“Every time we go into the studio, we get a better idea of how to see things through the way we originally envisioned,” offers Dunlop – and that was especially true this time out. “Because it could only be the three of us at any one time, it was an even more insular experience than usual. I don’t think we’ve ever been so involved in the production process, with everyone picking things up and playing together and trying things out. It was all very collaborative.”
Despite its relatively short runtime compared to their acclaimed catalog of full-length LPs, Reality Bites arguably showcases the widest breadth of Mise en Scene’s musical output to date, blending influences from Blondie to the Black Keys to Best Coast into a sonic concoction all their own.
Lead single “Nicer” captures the essence of their sound – sun-drenched alt-rock with an enviable chemistry and effortless hooks. “Burnout” revisits the full-on rock frenzy that largely defined their tour-de-force 2019 LP, Winnipeg, California, while “Beautiful People” presents a dreamy, aqueous delicacy that seductively swirls out of the speakers.
It’s the title track, though, that’s most indicative of Mise en Scene’s masterful ability to relay raw emotion through undeniably sticky melodies. Boasting an expansive dynamic range thanks in large part to Dunlop’s carefully crafted drum licks, the track is upbeat and boisterous but somehow perfectly complementary of its biting lyricism.
And that’s a constant through the entire collection. Every cut unapologetically encapsulates emotional lessons learned – some sad, some funny, some angry, and others outright rebellious – but never in disservice of the band’s delectably danceable energy, equally palpable from the stage as it is from the stereo.
“Whether it’s how the world sucks sometimes or how much it hurts to lose someone, or just musing on how we should all treat each other a little better, I think the feeling is more resonant when it catches you with a singable chorus or catchy lead line,” offers Blondal Johnson.
Indeed, Reality Bites serves as a keen reminder of a related fact – one that Mise en Scene has recognized since the very beginning: that music can get you through pretty much anything, and even help you thrive on the other side.
— Andrew King