It’s not often that I love an entire album at first listen, but that was exactly the case with The Darker the Weather // The Better the Man by MISSIO. I was literally stunned by this brilliant and totally original collection of songs the instant they hit my eardrums, and the last time I can remember that happening to me was four years ago with twenty one pilots’ Blurryface. As far as I’m concerned, The Darker the Weather // The Better the Man is a certifiable masterpiece, and hands down the best album of 2019. I can listen to it over and over, and it knocks me for a loop me every single time. It was released this past April, and I’m finally getting around to sharing my adoration for it.
MISSIO’s unique and eclectic sound is a glorious mash-up of alternative electronic rock, hip hop and dream pop, drawing the best from all three and more to create some of the most exciting and meaningful music I’ve heard in a while. Based in Austin, Texas and comprised of singer-songwriter/producer Matthew Brue and songwriter/producer and instrumentalist David Butler, MISSIO burst onto the music scene in 2017 with their outstanding debut album Loner. The album generated several singles, including “Middle Fingers” (my first introduction to the duo) and the mesmerizing “Bottom of the Deep Blue Sea”.
Their name, originally chosen by Brue who first named his solo act MISSIO, comes from the Latin word for “mission.” It had special meaning for him, as it represented the period in his life when he was recovering from addiction, and he even had the word tattooed on his arm. Many of the tracks on the latest album deal with drugs, emotional pain, and the struggles of overcoming addiction in general. The songs were written by Brue and Butler, with assistance on most tracks by Dwight A. Baker, who produced and mixed the album. Several fellow Austin musicians also contributed to some of the tracks.
The album kicks off with “Underground“, a killer track that instantly hooked me with its irresistible hip hop beat, infectious melody and trippy vibes. The way MISSIO incorporates a rich array of synthesizers, instruments and textures to create a dense, sweeping soundscape is really impressive, and I absolutely love Brue’s distinctive vocal style that registers in the higher range, just below a falsetto. He earnestly croons of his frustration that success and money haven’t brought the happiness and peace of mind he expected: “I’m down. I should be on top, but I’m always underground. Things are lookin’ up, but I’m making myself drown. High anxiety that money just compounds. I’ll be right here, just waiting underground.”
Next up is “Temple Priest“, a bombastic orgy of trap heaven. In the parlance of today’s youth, this song is fucking SICK! The track opens with Brue shrieking “That’s why they call me temple priest, muthafucka!“, then we’re hit upside the head by a volley of grinding industrial synths and crushing trap beats. Brue snarls the lyrics that (according to his tweets) speak to his feelings about “American religion and all the judgmental assholes out there. Find truth on your own terms. Don’t ever feel forced to believe something because of your upbringing. Don’t listen to artists/celebrities forcing shit down your throat either.” Amen to that! The track features some fine guest vocals by Austin rappers Paul Wall and Kota the Friend. It’s one of my favorites on an album filled with favorites!
Before I’m able to fully process the brilliance of “Temple Priest”, MISSIO unleashes “Rad Drugz” on my senses, and I’m now giddy from the sheer pleasure of listening to such sonic brilliance. Its exuberant, hard-driving EDM beat and infectious melody sharply contrast with the blunt lyrics about being hopelessly addicted to drugs and the highs they bring. Brue laments “Come on let’s be realistic ’cause I am not a role model. I’m just trying to get through my day. I take for granted the best that I’ve been handed. And not to make excuses, but what would help is my medicine./I can’t get enough. Too high to get up. I keep fucking up my life with rad drugz!” The dark and violent video shows the guys partaking in a brutal torture experience provided by the Rad Drugz Corporation, seemingly wanting to undergo pain and suffering as a form of sado-masochistic punishment for their addiction.
By the time “I See You” arrives, I’m helplessly in love with this magnificent album – and band! What a gorgeous song this is, at once sad yet hopeful, and brimming with emotional intensity. Lush, swirling synths and beautiful piano keys provide a dreamy backdrop for Brue’s stirring vocals. The heartwarming lyrics can be interpreted as being directed either to a loved one or to oneself, reassuring the intended that they are understood, supported and loved despite their shortcomings. “I’m alone with you, you’re alone with me. What a mess you’ve made of everything. I’m alone with you, you’re alone with me. And I’m hoping that you will see yourself. Like I see you./Even when you cry, and even when you’re shy, you mean everything to me. Even when you lie and even when you hide, you mean everything to me.” “I See You” is currently enjoying a long stay atop my Weekly Top 30, and is one of my favorite songs of the year.
MISSIO strikes a chord with me on the provocative “P.O.L.I.T.I.C.S.“, a denunciation of the divisive political climate in America today. To a rapid, head-banging beat, Brue sings “I don’t drink the Kool-Aid ’cause I’m out of my mind. /I don’t need your attitude, your tone is rude. Did your mama give you that mouth?/ This friendship is worse than P-O-L-I-T-I-C-S.” The breakdowns, deep bass beats and synth manipulations on this track are fantastic. “Dizzy” is a dark, trippy number, with distorted industrial synths, deep bass and pounding drumbeats. The lyrics speak to the irresistible seduction of substance addiction, no matter how bad it is for you: “I’ve been feeling self-destructive but I love it. I can’t help myself. Your taste is so seductive. I’m feeling dizzy, dizzy, dizzy, dizzy.”
The great songs just keep on coming. “Misfit Lunatic” serves up heavy industrial synths and some deep-ass bass drops, and the seductive little Middle Eastern synth melody is a nice touch. Another favorite is “Audi A4“, a deliriously uptempo song about the joys of driving down the highway with the windows down and blasting your favorite tunes. “Music makes my heart beat on its own. Cancels out the issues back at home. I like to roll the windows down ’cause you know I wanna make a scene. Gotta press repeat of some Snoop D-O double G!”
Keeping the vibe on an upbeat note, “Shimmy” is a sexy trap song about getting drunk and getting it on. “3 A.M., the room is spinnin’, we should do some sinnin’. You know I wanna, wanna. Make this feeling last forever, we should be together. You know we’re gonna, gonna.” The song was co-written by MISSIO and Austin hip hop duo Blackillac, who also provide some terrific vocals.
Things turn introspective on “Do You Still Love Me Like You Used To?“, a beautiful but bittersweet song that touches on the struggle couples experience when they drift apart. Man, the lyrics are so fucking relatable, describing feelings I’ve certainly felt more than once myself: “I am lonely when you’re in the room. And I’m tired, too. It’s the distance that’s dragging us down. I’m not blaming you. It’s like we’re screaming with no sound.” The dreamy synths give the track an 80’s new wave vibe reminiscent of songs by The Psychedelic Furs, A-ha and Joy Division. It was co-written by MISSIO and Austin indie rock band The Wind and the Wave, who also provide lovely vocals that harmonize beautifully with Brue’s.
One of the darkest songs on the album is “Black Roses“, in which Brue delivers a scathing denunciation to an abusive mother and adulterous father: “I am your son, you are my mother. I’m on my own, you’re not my lover. Don’t tell me how to live. I am your son, you are my father. You led us like lambs on our way to the slaughter. Who do you think you are?/ I am your son, she’s not my mother. You think she’s perfect, to me, just another. Do you think it’s okay? But I am your son, for worse or for better. Despite the fact that you a homewrecker. I guess that’s who you are.” The menacing synths and thunderous percussion perfectly dramatize the anger and resentment expressed in the bitter lyrics. Having grown up in a dysfunctional family, this song deeply resonates with me.
The powerful title track “The Darker the Weather // The Better the Man” was inspired by a time MISSIO were driving in a snowstorm in Washington state. Despite feeling exhausted and his voice sore, Brue marveled at the beauty of the landscape he saw from the window, and quickly became grateful for what they had achieved with their music. The words “the darker the weather, the better the man” came to mind as he thought about his introvertedness and tendency to self-sabotage. According to Butler (as quoted in an article by Substream Magazine), the message they wanted to convey in the song is “Sometimes the world might deal you a rough hand, but if you can find purpose in [dark] times, to make yourself a better person and come out all the better for it, then that’s pretty much the best place you can be in.”
The album closes with the hauntingly beautiful instrumental “Esperanza En La Oscuridad“, which is Spanish for “Hope In The Darkness.” It’s a dramatic and stunning composition that feels almost spiritual, with glittery synths that build to an explosive crescendo, bringing chills to my body and tears to my eyes, before calming down to a whisper at the end. It’s a spectacular conclusion to a spectacular album that I cannot gush about enough. As I stated at the beginning of this review, The Darker the Weather // The Better the Man is one of the finest albums I’ve heard in a very long while. MISSIO is one of the most innovative and creative music acts around today, and they’ve earned a spot among my favorite bands, quite possibly of all time.