With their debut release, Cheap Stuff, the band Great Mutations has made an album that recalls some of the best rock of today — and yesterday — while still sounding wholly original.
The trio primarily records in a church basement in Troy, New York — the location of Swordpaw Studios, founded by Great Mutations drummer Ian White and bassist Mitchell Masterson. But the melodic-pop on Cheap Stuff evokes everything from the pastoral Jersey-shore sounds of indie-rock band Real Estate to the languid southern California vibe of Pavement’s Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain — with occasional echoes of emotive Britpop and rootsy Americana woven in.
Great Mutations singer and guitarist Matthew Thouin cites a host of musical influences that inspired his songwriting on Cheap Stuff, from the British Invasion rock of the Kinks to the off-kilter indie of ‘90s Matador bands like Pavement and Guided by Voices. But Cheap Stuff is largely a result of Thouin’s singular vision — songs carefully crafted and meticulously recorded in a multi-layered process.
A mutual love of studio wizardry connected him with Masterson and White, an intuitively tight rhythm section who run the Swordpaw Studios collective (and also play together in the group Bear Grass). The pair had originally asked Thouin to record a single for Swordpaw’s “song of the month” project in 2012. That collaboration led to the formation of Great Mutations.
For the songs on Cheap Stuff, Thouin recorded the initial “scratch” tracks at home, followed by rounds of arrangement revisions with the band. Masterson and White added their bass and drum parts live at Swordpaw Studios. “Mitch would upload those tracks and I would then layer vocals, guitar, keyboards and backing vocals in my home studio,” Thouin says. “Part of the creative process for me is a lot of real-time composition — refining the songs through the layering and tracking process. But this is not a home recording. I feel like it’s a studio album.”
Masterson mixed the final product, “adding another layer of artistry to the songs,” Thouin says. If there’s a common thread that runs through Cheap Stuff, it’s the discomforts of working a day job, the reduction of creativity and art into a “cheap” commodity — and, above all, the desire to create whether anyone is listening or not.
Cheap Stuff is out July 22 via CD and digital download.
1. Five Days for Nights
2. Cheap Stuff
3. Maids of Honor
4. Ours Was a Peaceful Land
6. Still Life
8. Saddest Easter
9. Take Comfort
10. Minor Things
11. Buy a Boat
Pre-order includes immediate download in the high-quality format of your choice (MP3, FLAC, and more), plus unlimited streaming via the free Bandcamp app.
CD comes with a free Cheap Stuff 3″ magnet while supplies last.
Check out the band’s video for the song “Vessel”: