WHEN THEY pick up the phone to speak with the Mercury, Micah Rabwin and Sean Ogilvie—the core songwriting duo that captains Portland's Musée Mécanique—are in the middle of re-addressing incorrectly labeled CD packages for the band's European fans.
In a very small way, the scene captures the long journey Musée Mécanique has taken to get their new album, From Shores of Sleep, into the world. It has been six years since the band released its last album, 2008's Hold This Ghost, a span filled with dozens (if not hundreds) of steps needed to release a mostly self-funded, self-produced record.
In that context, correcting mailers is a piece of cake. Rabwin and Ogilvie, who moved from San Diego to Portland in 2005, have already done the artistic heavy lifting.
"This music was finished about two and a half or three years ago. It was (mixed) two years ago now," Ogilvie says. "The first half of those six years was a lot of work and a lot of ups and downs and a lot of us just kind of grappling with where we are in life. It's a very personal record."
Rabwin concurs. "It was the most intense artistic process that I've ever gone through. And it was rewarding but extremely challenging and it took some time."
It was time well spent. From Shores of Sleep is a gorgeous, 10-track concept record about the dreamer's battle against real-world pressures and the unrelenting push/pull of fantasy, creativity, family, faith, impermanence, and life—all framed by the constant presence of water as a lyrical theme. (The album's song titles include references to a lighthouse, the shore, brine, and the open sea.)
"We had all these pieces. Some were full songs. Some were bits of melody and little scraps of things that [were] swirling around post-Hold This Ghost," Rabwin says. "Once we got back home [from touring], a lot of it was about recognizing where we were at and understanding what we were working on, and from there saying, 'Oh, it's already presenting us with this theme and these ideas.' Then we just had to take that mess of things and arrange it, which takes a long time. We wrote and rewrote... a ton of times to make sure we were telling the story in the right way and that the themes were coming through."
Ogilvie chimes in: "From start to finish, the songs all take you through this journey that we were actually going through in the making of the record. Micah and I love records that you can just put on and they'll take you somewhere that you never imagined you'd go."
The lyrics are not the album's only transportive element. From Shores to Sleep is sonically beautiful, with ambling, elongated melodies enveloped in a warm, lush world of strings, horns, and other augmentations, created mostly in Ogilvie's home studio.
In the end, that world and its stories make From Shores of Sleep one of the most evocative and engaging local albums of the year. Its penultimate track, "Cast in the Brine," builds slowly to a sublime climax featuring the vocals of Alela Diane and Johanna Kunin.
For Rabwin and Ogilvie, the song also represents fulfillment.
"If I listen to the record and I listen to the lyrics, it's like, 'Yeah, I remember that part when we totally lost faith and I thought we were drowning and the realist was taking over,'" Ogilvie says. "And when we get to the end and [they're] singing to you, it's like, 'Yes, this is what we wanted.'"