Since their formation in 2016, West London’s Mantra have mesmerized listeners with spellbinding melodies propelled by powerhouse riffs and thundering drums. Signing to Dine Alone Records (Alexisonfire, Jimmy Eat World, Dashboard Confessional) for their I Want EP in 2017, Mantra’s infectious alt-rock has earned support from BBC Radio 1, BBC Introducing, and Amazing Radio. Alongside performing with Jane’s Addiction, Radkey, and Snow Patrol guitarist Nathan Connolly’s band Little Matador, they have traveled to festivals such as SXSW, Reading and Leeds, and 2000 Trees. This has all set the stage for Mantra’s forthcoming debut album, Dreamland, recorded with producer Tom Dalgety (Royal Blood, Ghost, The Pixies) to intensify their explosive sonic prowess.
The seeds of Mantra were first planted when singer/guitarist Simon Stark found himself in the midst of an existential crisis during his studies at university. “I just didn’t want to be there; it was numbing for me. Music was the only thing that actually meant something.” Regrouping with bassist Richard Leeds, Stark’s teenage friend from his formative years skateboarding on the streets of Ealing, the duo enlisted drummer Rob Emms after he answered a musicians wanted ad. “Rob’s from somewhere up north,” Stark jokes, “maybe Middle Earth…”
The album’s recording began aboard Lightship95 a docked North Sea tanker converted into a studio—with former Test Icicles guitarist Rory Atwell, who has also produced Palma Violets, Big Deal, and Veronica Falls. Mantra’s performance at Download then caught the attention of Tom Dalgety, who teamed up with the trio for a highly collaborative series of sessions at his Rockfield Studios in Gwent, Wales. Drawing on the grand UK tradition of orchestral alt-rock from Radiohead to Blur or The Verve, its songs are bolstered by Stark’s string arrangements (“New Friends”), shivering viola (“Too Little Too Late”), and even flickers of flute played by his sister (“Skinned Alive”).
Packed front to back with hook-laden hits, Dreamland’s standouts include the fuzzy, Queens of the Stone Age-sized stomp of “I Want” to the Weezer-style power-pop melancholy of “Cola Brat”, and the beat-driven “Annexe” drawing equal inspiration from ’80s video game soundtracks and The Strokes. Dalgety’s previous work with The Pixiesadds to their potent cocktail of “loud-quiet-loud” crescendos, illuminating the moody introspection at the core of Mantra’s sound on “Russian Roulette” with Stark’s urgent pleads to “save me from myself.” The album culminates with their barnstorming cover of James Blake’s “Retrograde,” remodeled into riff-driven reverie with the song’s guitar chords plucked from memory, while deftly walking a tight rope between darkness and light.
“I’m always trying to straddle being a rock band and a songwriter,” Stark concludes. “I don’t want to be screaming all the time or have it be completely soft. For this album, I opened myself up to any ideas Tom Dalgety or the other guys had, and honestly the changes they made are so much better than what I could have done on my own. We wanted these songs to be as dynamically diverse as possible.”