The story behind this album, and how it came to light, reads like a weird piece of psychological thriller fiction. Todd Ledford, whose Olde English Spelling Bee label is being reactivated after a lasting hiatus to release Blood For The Return, tells the story in all its bizarre glory here, but, to keep it short, Mirage is the one-man project of a man claiming to be 19 years of age and going by the name of Robin Nydal (geddit?), who records from his bedroom at his parents’ place. Of course, that’s not his real name and, as Ledford quickly found out, Mirage isn’t 19. Indeed he has been claiming to be a 19-year-old recording at his parents’ place for a few years, and the artwork used onBlood For The Return has already cropped up on other projects “Nydal” has worked on. Of which there have been many. Looking past the weirdness and smoke and mirrors of Mirage’s back-story, however, and what emerges is the image of a perhaps troubled and certainly intense young man with, as the album demonstrates, a very precocious talent.
Blood For The Return stems from the bedroom pop tradition of the mid-noughties known as “hypnagogic pop”, and whether or not such a sub-genre even realistically existed, it certainly harks back to very early Ariel Pink and acts like James Ferraro and Rangers, although more in terms of sound than content. Indeed, there is none of the video game, cartoon, Internet or TV show ephemera that popped up like half-formed memories on most “hypnagogic pop” albums of the past, with Nydal’s nostalgia steeped firmly in pop tropes of decades long revolved, from The Beach Boys to ELO via Fleetwood Mac, Van Dyke Parks and even prog acts like Genesis or Yes. You’ve got to have some ambition in you to want to emulate most of those whilst recording in your bedroom, and yet, in some ways, Nydal comes damn close. Whilst anything approaching the expanse and scope of, say, ‘Close To The Edge’ or ‘Supper’s Ready’ would be pretty much impossible, Blood For The Return nonetheless brims with intricate details and surprise shifts, all drenched with smothering layers of distortion – sometimes too many of them.
Locked inside these walls of sound are often striking melodies, especially on the loping title track, which opens the album with considerable force, or tracks like ‘Hubbard’ and ‘Do You Remember’, the latter almost single-worthy in its concise urgency and irresistible layered harmonies. Nydal’s lyrics, when audible, are oblique in the sunkissed poetic style of a David Crosby or, again, Ariel Pink, who would probably relish a line like “My Poison Oak and vine, we mate in the water/Boot thigh, lip and tongue all fit for the slaughter”, from the quasi-glam and sensual ‘Children Games’. Stripped of any real context (beyond all the above sleight of hands), however, the album as a whole often fails to match these oddball heights. Nydal’s monomaniacal drive has allowed him to transcend his production limitations in part, but at times it’s hard not to worry that all the illusions and misdirection might betray an occasional lack of focus, especially when bruising distortion is the main sonic tool used to bolster his compositions.
Having written all that, it’s hard not to be charmed by Blood For The Return. After all, Mirage may wear his influences overtly on his sleeve, but he still brings a forceful personality, even to the most undeveloped of these songs. As a figure in the shadows fleshing out his dreams of genres gone by, Mirage is a seductive presence, and his music casts a weird, occasionally uneasy spell.