Indie Rock Hit Parade Live Session: Mass Gothic

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Mass Gothic | Photo by Katie Tapman for XPN

Joining us in the studio for this Indie Rock Hit Parade session is a group that truly is a family affair. Led by the husband-and-wife duo of guitarist Noel Heroux and bassist Jessica Zambri, Mass Gothic released their second full-length album for Sub Pop, I’ve Tortured You Long Enough, earlier this year. Its title a winking nod to the often tumultuous nature of married life, the album weaves heartfelt ballads with experimental rockers in a thrilling and eclectic (and brightly colored) package. Just like on the record, Noel and Jessica are joined in this performance by keyboardist Cristi Jo Zambri (a performer in her own right and, as you might have deduced, Jessica’s sister) and drummer Joseph Stickney, who is Christi Jo’s partner. The fluid interplay between each member of Mass Gothic suggests a band that has ironed out all the kinks, but that doesn’t tell this album’s whole story. Listen to the live performances and hear the album unfold:


Our session charges to start with the predominantly Noel-led “New Work.” Though the song appears in the album’s final third, it serves as a perfect introduction to Mass Gothic’s dynamic sound. Joe’s sturdy drumming pushes the song forward, as does Jessica’s pulsing bass. The Zambri sisters’ unified refrain act as strong counterpoints to Noel’s pleading lead. Next is “How I Love You,” Jessica’s standout moment and the album’s emotional centerpiece. What begins as a hushed and tender ode to her significant other slowly builds to a soaring musical climax.

Near the very end of the new album’s recording, the decision was made to scrap everything and start again. Instead of feeling fussed-over, the final versions of the songs are lean and free of anything inessential. You can especially hear this on the next song, the sprawling “The Goad.” The song weaves its way through multiple stages of rhythmic collapse, eventually coalescing into an ecstatic wordless vocalization by Cristi Jo. Finally there’s “Big Window,” which also serves as the album’s closing bookend. The song ping-pongs between a playful, nearly tropical verse led by Noel and a wide-eyed, Kate Bush-esque chorus from Jessica. There’s a rapturous Cristi Jo coda at the end of this one, too; a trick that I can safely say, watching from the control room, can never be overused.

Listen to Mass Gothic’s Indie Rock Hit Parade session below and check out some of Katie Tapman’s photos from the studio:

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