Over the past year, Makeup and Vanity Set (aka Matthew Pusti) has executed a masterclass in avoiding the pitfalls of releasing too much music without exhausting his audience or releasing half-baked ideas. Earlier in the year, he released the film soundtracks to Mather and Foyer followed by the videogame soundtrack to Overpass, all while also scoring the film A Good Woman Is Hard to Find and the horror-anthology show Radio Rental. Those last two haven’t been widely released (yet) but certainly contribute to the impressive workload. Breaking News is the fourth official release of the year but, technically speaking, could be considered the first solo release from MAVS in 2019 as it required no collaboration with an outside director or creative department. Juggling five different projects, across multiple teams and opinions and still having the ability to create your own singular musical expression is bonkers. Like I said, a Masterclass.
Aside from the impressive volume of output, the album serves as a sequel to the much revered Charles Park trilogy of albums that MAVS released between 2006 and 2011. While the music is entirely instrumental, there is an underlying story that can be pieced together from liner notes, promo videos and insights from Pusti himself. Charles Park, the character, is a vigilante that takes the law into his own hands and evades authorities. The plot is a nod to many movies of the 70’s and the 80’s, with the accompanying music feeling like a dance-y John Carpenter. Over the course of the original three records the style softened, replacing abrasive beats and a cacophony of instruments with slower, more sinister, set pieces. As a soundtrack to a fictional story, it’s sensible change of pace as the character focuses on getting away rather than focusing on vengeance.
With Part IV, Breaking News, the Charles Park character has returned from the underground and taken over a news station. Taking clues from the cover art, which depicts a They Live style monstrosity of a face on the male newscaster, it’s likely safe to assume that the real world hysteria of news and politics has upset the dark protagonist. There’s also a shadow-y depiction of Park with a gun, holding the station hostage. As an 80’s classic movie plot, this feels completely apt but as a 2019 real world event, it feels legitimately scary in its plausibility.
I’d love to say that the plot of these records can merely be treated as an aside but the idea of a vigilante taking over a news station to right the wrongs that he sees gives me pause. Couple that with the firearm on the album art and you’ve got yourself real uneasy feeling. The assumption here that MAVS is glorifying such actions; creating a record that extolls the Park character for his illegal actions is an easy leap of logic but, I believe, not the correct one to make.
Instead of making assumptions about the intent behind the music, I went straight to the source to find out the motivations of creating the record and asked Pusti what the history was. Here’s what he had to say:
I made the album in about a month. I liked the title Breaking News, because it’s a term that’s carved into our culture now. Shootings and politics and culture, it’s all breaking news. I also liked the idea of ‘breaking’ news. It’s inherently violent but at the same time it’s systemic at this point. Personally, I’m a pacifist. I feel like culturally we crave unrest now.
The album’s POV is the vigilante of the old albums is off the grid out of the country in Mexico. He’s a day laborer. He gets caught up with a group of rebels who want to kidnap the President. He tags along as a hired hand. The leader of the group ends up murdering the President and the vigilante is left to try to get out of the ensuing riots alive.
I’m not glorifying vigilantism. The 3rd album was how I processed being in a terrible hit and run accident, this one is how I processed the turn of American politics.
While never explicitly stated, Breaking News serves as a mirror for the frustration that many feel with the news cycle of our modern times. The They Live monster on the cover could not be more blatantly citing a world where lies are consistently right in front of us. The vigilante actions of Charles Park, as noted above, aren’t even explicitly his own. It’s a complacence with the violence happening around us.
Clearly, I’m obsessing over the fictional plot of a story that is never explicitly laid out. This seemingly inconsequential detail supporting the album may not be worth 500 words but, for me, the enjoyment of the album hinges on if the impetus behind it is glorifying a headspace of violence. Fortunately, that’s not the case. The album is a dark journey, as many MAVS releases are, and sets a tone for reflecting on our current political climate in which it seems that chaos, distrust and misinformation are sewn all around us.