Albums / EPs, Reviews

Album Review: Mndsgn – Yawn Zen

Honesty in artwork is essential. Without it, any attempt at claiming authenticity falls flat. In crafting Yawn Zen, Ringgo…


Honesty in artwork is essential. Without it, any attempt at claiming authenticity falls flat. In crafting Yawn Zen, Ringgo Ancheta (AKA Mndsgn; pronounced Mind Design) has attempted to craft an album that articulates bliss and the absence of daily struggle.  For the most part, Ancheta has achieved exactly that, a full-length LP that strolls along, basking in its own glow, reluctant to exert itself, providing an oeuvre for contentment that does no less than encourage similar contemplations of happiness. 

As a second-generation Philippine living in the US, Ancheta’s story is hardly one of middle class banality. After fleeing the Philippines after defecting from the Aum Supreme Truth Cult, Ancheta’s parents fled to the US in the 80s where his father would become a researcher at Princeton Neuroscience Institute.  Living in the countryside outskirts of New Jersey, Ancheta’s upbringing was calm and relatively conflict free. 

After discovering hip-hop while hitchhiking his way to Philadelphia, it wasn’t long before the East coast had seen the birth of Mndsgn. After establishing himself as such, Ancheta made the pilgrimage to the West coast – spiritual Mecca to the new beat music generation. 

Upon arrival, Mndsgn has found himself at two hubs of the scene; hosting a regular feature over at Boiler Room, Breakfast with Ringgo. A two hour long monthly foray into his chill den, where he sits, sips on tea, curating a playlist of blissed out sonic landscapes offering the voice of a ‘faded man at 10am’ watching ‘The Owl Whisperer’. The second is his label, Stones Throw Records. Inclusion on the roster sees him joining the likes of Madlib and J Dilla. He has established himself – in a relatively short amount of time – as a major player in the Los Angeles musical landscape.

As such, it should come as no surprise that his debut LP Yawn Zen finds Mndsgn occupying an interesting sector, straddling both hip-hop and the post-internet genres. While contemporaries like Mono/Poly and Taylor McFerrin – both signed to the uncontested beat scene flagship, Brainfeeder – appear to be contesting for a space dominated by their label founder, Flying Lotus, Mndsgn is opting rather to keep things simple, relying on a hip-hop pedigree for something different. 

Ancheta made the album in a “state of bliss”, and Yawn Zen could have the potential to polarise, depending from which perspective one views the album: as far as hip-hop goes, it’s complex, but there is enough room in the album to accommodate an MC; from the post-internet side of things though, it may seem stark, almost too bare. 

‘Homewards’ is a prime example of this. A track propelled by a simple drum loop and key arrangement that’s accentuated by the most tranquil of melodies. The track glides on a cloud of jazz-indebted groove without pushing to add in that additional sample, that extra layer, which does get hinted at in the closing thirty seconds of the track but is never fully realised. 

That’s not to say that this complex summit is never reached. ‘Frugality’ gets closer with effervescent flurries of Moog gurgles and Theremin-like warbles while ‘Afternoon Shuffle’ arpeggiates its way through a mere two minutes and is underwritten by another motorik-like drum pattern. 

A danger present when veering into the post-internet genre amalgam is: firstly, there is little space for one to get the time to voice one’s perspective; and secondly, to do so in an original way. Tracks like ‘Sheets’, a lethargic slow burner that has Ancheta crooning with heartache through a mist of modulation, and ‘Txt Msgs’, a bouncier retro synth pop song, would not seem out of place on an album like Toro Y Moi’s debut Causers of This. That’s by no means a bad thing, but compare either to any track from Causers of This and the gap is palpable. While the latter’s tracks are smooth and complex, and have stood the test of time (released almost 5 years prior to Yawn Zen – what is that in blog years?), certain tracks off Yawn Zen lack the clear artistic purpose and depth needed to be standing shoulder to shoulder with current pioneers of the post-internet movement today.

The album’s concept, however, is unashamedly zen’d-out. Tracks like ‘AM’, ‘Zen’ and ‘Camelblues’ are prime examples of where Mndsgn’s strengths lie: his minimalist aesthetic. The usage of a singular recording and building delicate melodies around them offers a stylised and subtle sound that is truly beautiful, concocting the perfect mixture between the respective hip-hop/post-internet perspectives. 

As a debut album, Yawn Zen’s pitfalls and strengths can both perhaps be chalked up to a sense of wide-eyed naïveté. When he gets it right, it is truly great; however, the potential for self-indulgence is ever-present. What remains is that sense of honesty and undeniable technical mastery, as evidenced by his brilliant live sets. Here’s hoping that Mndsgn builds on that, and further develops his immense potential to carve out his own happy chill-lounge in the LA hills.

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