Graded on a Curve: Dungen & Woods,
“Myths 003” EP

Marfa Myths is a multi-day music festival that’s been held annually in Marfa, TX since 2014. Where many extended fests are about listening to a succession of acts in a field while staying hydrated and succumbing to sunburn, Marfa Myths strives for a refreshing and memorable experience by establishing yearly artists in residence and encouraging creative interaction. And through Mexican Summer’s series of Marfa Myths documents, the fest’s collaborative aims can be engaged with from the comfort of one’s listening room. For “Myths 003,” the participants are Stockholm’s Dungen and Brooklyn’s Woods. If expectedly psych-imbued, the results are quite disciplined. It’s out March 16 on vinyl and digital.

I’ve never been to Marfa, but any city that hosts a yearly film festival that chooses to screen its program one film at a time, holds outdoor showings in the desert, and aligns silent films with the performance of new scores (as per Mary Lattimore and Jeff Zeigler’s recent LP of music for Philippe Garrel’s Le Révélateur) sounds like my kinda place. Marfa Myths only intensifies this notion. The fest, founded by the nonprofit Ballroom Marfa and Brooklyn’s Mexican Summer, aims to be a “multidisciplinary cultural program” (including music, film, and visual arts) rather than just another pileup of performances.

Live music is a big part of the event to be sure, but so are collaborative recording residencies designed to produce results that endure as something other than just snapshots and shaky phone video footage from those holding a festival lanyard. Last year Marfa paired up Dungen and Woods, a combo that highlights how the Myths crew isn’t merely throwing together random participants and hoping for a spark, as the Stockholmers and Brooklynites toured together and struck up a rapport way back in 2009.

Furthermore, both outfits, and especially Dungen, are aptly described as psychedelic (Woods has been tagged more than once as freak-folk, though they strain against tidy categorization), which likely applies to why they hit the road together in the first place. Of course, the term psychedelia sometimes gets attached to meandering formlessness, but not in the case of these groups and ditto for “Myths 003,” which, like the prior two releases in the series, is an EP, with this installment consisting of seven tracks lasting just shy of 31 minutes.

Based on its title, one could reasonably surmise that “Loop” is a case of quickly conceived repetition. Indeed, there are some subtly cyclical elements in evidence, but the cut largely relies on a robust rhythm combined with a breezy quality, this latter element certainly enhanced by a recurring flute figure as the blend gets further offset with strands of gentle guitar sting.

Succinct at just under three minutes, it has the air of a prelude, and this feel is only deepened by the release standout that immediately follows. Both groups have established a way with a melody throughout their discographies, but on first hearing “Turn Around” is striking in how it blends folky strum, aspects of ’70s FM radio pop (in its accents of piano and especially through Jeremy Earl’s vocal), and yes, psychedelia (via slightly woozy symphonic keyboard and snaky guitar interludes).

The track is something of an outlier here, as “Marfa Sunset” redirects into a flute and vibes-tinged late ’60s-ish psych passage that’s main limitation derives from rising up in progress and fading out prematurely. If “Loop” connects like a prelude, “Marfa Sunset” seems like an excerpt; easily avoiding the meandering formlessness mentioned above, it could’ve easily stuck around for a while.

The non-vocal nature on display across much of “Myths 003” leans toward the sound of Dungen overall, but the plucky and slightly longer “Morning Myth” does present a nice, instrumentally rich merger of the two styles. By contrast, “Jag Ville Va Kvar” adds Swedish lyrics to a decidedly Woodsy scenario and then spreads out even more, and to positive effect. But it’s “Saint George” that’s the most expansive selection on the record, locating a groove early, spicing it with a little saxophone, riding it for a while, and then raising the intensity to fruitful effect.

It might not be mind-blowing stuff, but it unfolds quite enjoyably, and given the nature of the endeavor, the lack of audible strain is impressive. For the close, “Just for the Taste” delivers splashes of electric color to a solid strum foundation. Overall, this EP bodes well for the April’s Marfa Myths event and by extension, future installments of Mexican Sumer’s Myths series.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B+

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