Olympus Mons celebrates its 20th anniversary with a new album
High school musical projects often don’t survive the first year of college. Still in turmoil after two decades together, Olympus Mons managed to break the mould. The quartet turned 20 last month and recently released another album.
Audiences will get a live preview of the new album There’s no lights left but the sun when Olympus Mons will play it on Friday December 16 at the Brillobox. Abandoned on December 13, There’s no lights left but the sun marks the Pittsburgh-born and raised band’s third album, and their first release in 10 years.
For a band that’s been around as long as Olympus Mons, three albums might seem like an underachievement. Or maybe that’s the secret to keeping them together for so long.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had any big ‘make or break’ aspirations,” says bassist Mike Bechtold, who plays in the band with his twin brother, keyboardist Brian. “It was fairer, we appreciate what we do and the experiences we get from it. Just good friends getting together, making music, playing it sometimes.
The Bechtolds, along with drummer Kurt Threlfall and vocalist Mike Ummer, launched the band in high school through a shared love of making music. Their last two albums, Olympus Mons in 2008 and The Mink Trapper’s Daughter in 2012established their space rock and shoegaze inspired sound.
The new album was conceived over three wintry days in November 2019 at an Airbnb on Somerset County’s Indian Lake. The frosty, dark atmosphere of the set seeped into their recording process, which took place before the pandemic began.
“I would say more than three-quarters of the album is a bit melancholy,” says Threlfall. “It kind of seemed to predict what was to come, not just for us, but for the whole world.”
There’s no lights left but the sun builds on the band’s backlog of rambunctious songs driven by The Cure-style guitar melodies from a more mature songwriting perspective. Across the album’s seven tracks, Ummer hums and moans over steady bass lines. Think U2 arena rock, but for a dimly lit dive bar.
The press release for the new album describes Olympus Mons as “rather reclusive”. In person, Pittsburgh City Paper finds them less withdrawn than expected, as they share stories of Night Lite beer-fueled college recording sessions and hang show flyers on lampposts in the freezing cold.
Pittsburgh’s music scene is very different from when it started, and they’ll be the first to admit they’re behind on social media (they only recently launched their Twitter). But since high school, they’ve just focused on good music.
“I think we’ve been pretty consistent,” says Threlfall. “I don’t think we could do this with anyone else. It’s either the four of us or nothing.
The group got their start in clubs and bars on the South Side, shaking hands with promoters and entering small local venues when they were still 18 and 19 years old. Most places they’ve played — Howlers, 31st Street Pub, The Rex Theater, Z Lounge – have gone bankrupt as a new wave of Pittsburgh venues take their place.
“People still remember those days. Before, everything was done by word of mouth,” says Threlfall. “I find it difficult to adapt to new things. Everything seems to be a lot heavier on social media.
Even though the music scene has changed, the group chemistry remains the same.
“We all learned to play together,” says Bechtold. “We’ve had people come in and jam, but it never quite seems to fit the chemistry. It’s not really the same thing.
The new album begins with “Automate”, a booming intro track underscored by Threlfall’s pounding drums. Ummer’s voice, initially soft-spoken, rises and overtakes the song by the ending chorus, reverberating in swirling guitar leads.
The next track, “The Faintest Sounds,” bursts into a gripping guitar melody before slipping into vocals. “If I was the only one / Deep in the moon,” Ummer sings. The song picks up with a distant whimper on the chorus: “The faintest sounds / They’re shaking the ground” serves as an apt metaphor for devastating everyday emotions and a neat summary of the band’s deceptively layered melodies.
Despite the gloomy aesthetic and heavy sound of Olympus Mons, the album closes with two forward-looking tracks, the bright and jangly “I wish you good luck» and the contemplative « A triumph celebrated ». Backed by a fast keyboard riff and underscored by Threlfall’s steady beat on the tried-and-tested Pearl drum kit he’s been using since ninth grade, “A Celebrated Triumph” reflects on conclusions and hard-earned moments of rest with “He Doesn’t no more lights left but the sun / This is my greeting / So pull the curtain for the ovation.
Is this the last salute for the group of 20? Small chance. As long as it’s fun, making music together won’t stop for a long time, says Bechtold.
“It’s a weird thing – getting together with your friends, just being part of something else. Almost being part of a team,” Bechtold says. whatever. We can’t wait to continue.”
Olympus Mons with Shade and DJ Mike Cunningham. 9 p.m. on Friday, December 16. Brillobox. 4104 Penn Ave, Bloomfield. $10. brilloboxpgh.com