St. Louis Synth-Punks the Mall Blast Into the Future With Time Vehicle Earth

The new album has been making big waves since it was released early this month

click to enlarge Spencer Bible and Mark Plant know how to get a crowd moving with the Mall. - MABEL SUEN
MABEL SUEN
Spencer Bible and Mark Plant know how to get a crowd moving with the Mall.

It's a cool autumn evening in University City, and Loop mainstay Blueberry Hill's Duck Room is boasting a packed house for one of the more anticipated shows of the season. On stage, Spencer Bible deftly operates an insanely complicated midi rig, demonstrating considerable mastery over what would look to most outsiders more like a mysterious pile of wires and buttons than an instrument capable of inspiring a whole dance floor to shake their asses.

To Bible's left, Mark Plant commands the attention of the crowd with ease. Clad in diamond-studded pleather boots and fishnets under a pair of cutoffs and a black T-shirt, Plant delivers a set of half-growled, half-shouted vocals that add a menacing counterbalance to the bubbling and propulsive sounds generated by the rig. The assembled masses sway and shake with the rhythm as if in a trance, pushed forth by the at-once hauntingly beautiful and desperately urgent music that hangs in the air.

The show is the first since Bible and Plant — a duo who comprise the celebrated St. Louis synth-punk act the Mall — released their newest record, Time Vehicle Earth, on October 7. Though the scene unfolding here takes place on a Wednesday in St. Louis County, it could as easily be a dance party at the end of the world, as streaming service Bandcamp noted upon naming the new record an "essential release" last week. That nod is just the latest in a string of accolades for the relatively young act, which boasts more than 30,000 monthly listeners on Spotify, with its 2020 track "An Answer" pulling in more than half a million streams on the app alone.

Plant is characteristically humble about the considerable success of the project.

"It's really easy to look at that stuff and be like, 'Oh, half a million people listened to my song,' but I think it really is this weird algorithm thing where it's like the algorithm is making people listen to this," Plant demurs. "But I don't think there's any sort of phenomenon where a half a million people suddenly liked it out of nowhere."

It's a solid example of some good old-fashioned Midwestern humility, but in all honesty, it's a load of crap. The fact is, audiences are increasingly flocking to the Mall's sound and have been doing so since the band first burst onto the scene with the release of its debut album Zone in 2020. Released by Richmond's Fixed Grin Records and featuring stunning visuals by Indonesian artist Ibayarifin, Time Vehicle Earth has been one of the more highly anticipated albums of the year among fans of hard-edged minimal wave music.

The record is also the first that Plant recorded with a partner. Previously, the Mall had been a solo act, with Plant handling both vocal duties and operation of that inscrutable pile of buttons and wires. Bible was added to the group at the start of the year, freeing up Plant to crawl out from behind that rig while helping push the act's sound forward. As Plant explains it, Bible was able to ground some of the more out-there ideas for the record and make them actually possible to pull off.

"I was so creatively frozen after [Zone]," Plant explains. "It was like, all my ideas were getting too lofty and unfinishable on my own, I guess. So having Spencer in the band, he's a much more reasonable person. ... I just don't think it would have happened at all without him."

Bible and Plant started work on the album in January, practicing in Plant's basement, which was also the studio where the album was recorded using what Plant calls a "cool gamer computer with lots of cool lights." Plant and Bible spent months hammering away at the record, sequencing synths and working out song structures, before recording live straight into the computer with minimal post-processing. Plant says that the songs were all recorded in the same way they are performed live, with the only exception being that the vocals were added later.

The result is nine tracks of fully danceable, dystopian darkwave with a slight goth bent that Plant describes as accidental — the kind of music you might hear in the best Crow movie, a hypothetical one that was never released. Thematically the record applies massive sci-fi constructs to the actual reality we live in today, right now, exploring the fact that living on Earth is the only manner by which any of us have ever experienced the concept of time. It has industrial influences, but it eschews the harsher elements of the music of Ministry or Skinny Puppy in favor of deliberately pop-centric passages that place the band in its own category.

"We're doing something that's sort of prettier and like, honestly, just gayer than they are," Plant says with a chuckle. "It does put us in this different bubble where it's like, we still don't quite fit in with those industrial bands because they're trying to do something more figured out, I think, than we are. We're just trying to play synthesizers."

The Mall has been especially busy of late, having recently wrapped up a 24-date East Coast tour that saw the group performing from Florida to Canada. In late November, the duo will hit the West Coast for six dates with like-minded act MSPAINT from Hattiesburg, Mississippi. That tour will wrap up with a hometown show at Delmar Hall on Friday, December 2, that Plant is especially excited about, with a stacked lineup including Foxing, Thor Axe and Shinra Knives.

"It's really cool that [Foxing] pulled on a bunch of cool local bands," Plant says of the show's headliner. "That's a band that could just walk away from all of it whenever they wanted to."

As for Plant and Bible, the two have no intentions of walking away from anything anytime soon. They're fully strapped into this vehicle they've found themselves on, with no plans to take their feet off the gas.

After all, time is of the essence. 

About The Author

Daniel Hill

Daniel Hill is editor at large for the Riverfront Times and he demands to be taken seriously, despite all evidence to the contrary. Follow him on Twitter at @rftmusic.
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