Curbside prophets

Beneath a black sky dotted with steamy street lights stood the members of Musée Mécanique. Huddled on the curb, sharing cigarettes and quoting their favorite post-apocalyptic passages from sci-fi novels, they patiently waited to play on Oct. 17 at The Monkey House. Fitting to their musicality, the time-concerned, fantastical and romantic themes of this genre sweep through “Hold This Ghost,” the Portland-based quintet’s new feature album released this past September. Reverberations of disparate sounds – whispers of accordions, clarinets, harps and musical saws – build, echo and circulate with the twangs of glockenspiels, synthesizers and pianos. Creating a melodic symbiosis of old-time instruments and contemporary technology, Musée Mécanique captures the elegance and eeriness of digital electro-synthesis and the lyrical history of classically folk instruments. “We embrace the digital age,” lyricist and lead singer Micah Robinson said. “But we also include all the sounds that we like and are exposed to,” he said. “In college, I was an electronic music minor and I did electronic compositions, but I was also in an orchestra.” Drawing from a variety of influences, icluding “this metal band we played with in North Carolina, Simon & Garfunkel, ABBA, John Denver, the stuff our parents listened to, the Smashing Pumpkins, what we like now” said lyricist, pianist, and vocal collaborator Sean Ogilvie – their music rebounds with an authenticity of mixed genres. They veer away, however, from harsh, erratic or cacophonic beats, consistently presenting a romanticized and lyrical composition. “Like Home” opens with a dizzying merry-go-round pace, flirting with and inciting the memories we associate with certain sounds – like the bellows of a fog horn, hands clapping, and a circus juke-box. “We’ve always been inspired by any art that strives to create its own little world,” Robinson said. “It’s a visual experience listening to us.” Robinson’s voice is the portal to this other-worldliness; sweet and steady throughout the album, his wispy narrative goes high, then low, hypnotizing us into a dreamy and transcendental reverie of memory and time. Invoking a masque-like serenity in “Changing Our Skins,” Musée Mécanique creates a mystical play land for their audience where childhood wonderment and novelty are unsuppressed. Like the fantastical worlds of “Harry Potter” and “The Golden Compass,” “Our Changing Skins” evokes the infantile sound memories of birds humming, ghost-like chants and the epic sereneness and vastness of a “Lord of the Rings” film score. Ogilvie’s voice is gentle, cradling one’s inner child in a story-telling lullaby: “Once if I remember well/ our days were filled with sun and wind/ we came to dusk/ the lights would flicker on/ For?tresses of pillows hanging/ sheets from all the bookshelves/ we were kings and queens of our own little land,” he sings.The conversation turned philosophical fast, as Ogilvie explained the “charm” of their namesake, Musée Mécanique, an antique museum located on San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf housing coin-operated music boxes: “It represents this time,” he said. “There was no television, there were no radios; all [the] machines at this mu?seum are old-fashioned and artisan-craft?ed,” Ogilvie said. “They’re contrived mu?sic boxes, but they are unique in and of themselves. And our songs are unique in themselves,” he said. “You can replicate anything in this day, but these instruments each have their intricacies. What’s amazing is that people still go in there,” Ogilvie said. “Humans have to participate in making music. And they’re going to keep putting quarters in there, because it’s inspiring.”Responding largely to 21st century concerns – both the postmodern crisis that all has been created and therefore nothing authentic can be produced, and the marginalizing of individuality in the name of capitalism – Robinson and Ogilvie are evoking a fantastic escape. Fusing technology and a human touch, they create a lyrical dream world in which time is lost and wonderment and confusion are once again celebrated. They ask us to remember our pasts, and step outside this reality for a moment.