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It’s been nearly eight years since the last Mondo Drag album came out. In that time, the Bay Area psych-prog band toured the US and Europe, performed at major festivals and—once again—reformed their rhythm section. But in the context of the band’s nearly two-decade existence, this period may have been the most fraught. Vocalist and keyboardist John Gamiño lost friends and family members. Meanwhile, humanity suffered the throes of a global pandemic.
“It was a dark chapter,” he recalls. “I was going through a lot of stuff personally—there’s been a lot of death, loss of family members, and grief. Plus, the band was inactive. It felt like time was slipping away from me. I felt like I was wasting my opportunities. I felt like I wasn’t participating in my story as much as I could have.”
This feeling of time slipping away is the prevailing theme on Mondo Drag’s new album, Through the Hourglass. “For me, Through the Hourglass really encompasses the quarantine/pandemic years,” Gamiño says. “But in a way that includes a couple of years before that for us, because the band was stagnant during that time. Living with that was really impactful on our daily lives. So, the album is reflective. It’s looking at time—past, present, future.”
Luckily, Mondo Drag emerged from this dour period reborn. Freshly energized by bassist Conor Riley (formerly of San Diego psych squad Astra, currently of Birth), who joined in 2018, and drummer Jimmy Perez, who joined in 2022, Gamiño and guitarists Jake Sheley and Nolan Girard have triumphed over the seemingly inexorable pull of time’s passage.
“Astra was the one contemporary band that we felt was on the same tip as us,” Gamiño says. “We saw the similarities and felt the same vibe. Conor moved to San Francisco in 2018 and heard we were looking for a bassist, so we got in touch. For us, it was like, ‘The synth player from Astra wants to play bass for us?’ We couldn’t think of anybody more perfect.”
Perez, meanwhile, brings deep psych-prog knowledge and impeccable skill. “He’s an amazing drummer, and he allowed us to do what we’ve been trying to do,” Gamiño says. “Before he came along, it was like, ‘Where are the drummers who like psych and prog and can play dynamically?’ We ended up trying out metal drummers, but they couldn’t swing. Jimmy was the final piece of the puzzle.”
The result is a dazzling and often plaintive rumination on the hours, days, and years—not to mention experiences—that comprise a lifetime. Two-part opener “Burning Daylight” smolders with melancholy, offering a whirl of multi-colored and hallucinatory imagery. “It’s about the California wildfires and a feeling of helplessness,” Gamiño explains. “There’s a juxtaposition between the dark lyricism and upbeat music which is meant to imply a sort of delusional state—and choosing our own delusion to overcome the crushing despair of reality.”
Eleven-minute centerpiece “Passages” is a sprawling prog-rock adventure, festooned with lofty guitar melodies, sweeping organ flourishes and a delicately finger-picked outro. But the heaviest song, thematically speaking, might be the mournful and hypnotic “Death in Spring,” which borrows its title from the like-named Catalan novel.
“In the novel, people are placed inside opened trees and their mouths filled with cement before they die to prevent their souls from escaping,” Gamiño explains. “The song is about three people I knew who lost their lives to gun violence, addiction, and mental health. It’s my way of cementing their souls in song form.”
Mondo Drag fans might be surprised by this blend of hard reality with literary surrealism, but it’s a perfect example of how the last several years have impacted Mondo Drag—and Gamiño in particular. “On all of our previous albums, the lyrical content is more psychedelic and out there,” he acknowledges. “This is the most personal stuff I’ve ever done, so I’m definitely feeling vulnerable on this one.”
The title Through the Hourglass comes from the opening of the long-running soap opera Days of Our Lives. It’s less inspired by a predilection for daytime TV than Gamiño’s connection with his late mother, who passed during the time since the last album. “I used to watch Days of Our Lives with her everyday growing up,” he explains. “The song is kind of a reinterpretation of the theme song, although it’s different enough that probably no one will catch it. Now that I’m getting older, I like to put these little Easter eggs in the songs for myself and for archival purposes—for memories.”
Through the Hourglass was tracked at El Studio in San Francisco, with an additional ten days of recording at the band’s rehearsal space, which doubles as a hybrid analog-digital recording studio. The album was engineered and mixed by Phil Becker, drummer of space-punk mainstays Pins Of Light. “We’re still here,” Gamiño says. “We’ve been in the studio working on our craft and honing our skills. Now we’re re-emerging for the next stage of our life cycle.”
1. Burning Daylight Pt. 1
2. Burning Daylight Pt. 2
4. Through The Hourglass
5. Death In Spring