“Am I a villain or a saint?” MISSIO asks on the title track of their brilliant new album VILLAIN. It’s an aural and emotional roller-coaster, encompassing the yin and yang of evil and goodness that exists within most of us. As regular readers of this blog know, I’m a huge fan of the Austin, Texas-based duo, which consists of singer-songwriter and producer Matthew Brue and songwriter/producer and instrumentalist David Butler. On the strength of their exceptional music catalog, as well as their honesty and openness with their fans and followers, they’ve earned a place among my favorite music acts of all time, and I’ve featured them several times on this blog. Their edgy, thoroughly original sound is an eclectic mash-up of gritty alternative electronic rock, hip hop and dreamy emo vibes. Matthew’s beautiful, deeply emotive vocals add to their distinctive sound that’s totally unlike any other act.
Beginning with the release of their debut album Loner in 2017, they’ve consistently put out a tremendous amount of outstanding music, including their magnificent second album The Darker the Weather // The Better the Man in 2019 (my review of that album has garnered over 2,900 views, making it my highest-viewed album review ever). They released their gorgeous fourth album Can You Feel The Sun in October 2020, and their fifth and latest album VILLAIN dropped September 23rd. Three of their songs – “I See You”, “Underground” and “Can You Feel the Sun” – have reached #1 on my own Weekly Top 30 chart, with “I See You” also being my #1 song of 2019 and #10 of the entire decade of the 2010s.
Though most of MISSIO’s songs are inspired by personal experiences, both good and bad, VILLAIN is perhaps their most deeply personal and introspective: “This is the first album we’ve chosen to release independently, and we poured our hearts into it. We always aim to write vulnerably about what we are feeling in the moment, and honestly, the last few years have been filled with a lot of difficult moments for us. Therefore, this album was written and inspired from some of the darkest spaces / heaviest emotions that we’ve experienced. It’s an album cultivated over hundreds of hours of internal/external dialogue within ourselves and each other about the meaning of the world and our place in it.“
The ten tracks touch on such topics as the conflict between good vs. evil, feelings of self-worth, anger and resentment, and the need for love and acceptance. The title track “Villain” seems to encapsulate all of these: “Complicated and a mess, slightly OCD. Take for granted many things that mean a lot to me. I know, I’ve got a lot to learn. I was raised as a scorpion. Being pulled by the moon in a high tide. That’s why I’m broken. I know, this hurts a lot. It’s not my fault it never was. And I know, I’m tough like stone. But right now, please hug me, I feel alone.” Musically, the song alternates between pensive, atmospheric moods and urgent, beat-driven grooves, nicely conveying the inner conflict touched on earlier.
On the menacing trip hop song “Demons“, Matthew starts off lamenting of his shortcomings “I feel I am letting go. And that makes me angry because I’m not who I want to be. It seems like I’m fading. And that makes me terrified because I’m not who I want to be.” But then he seems to take on the persona of the devil as he malevolently snarls, perhaps in reply to himself “Ay boy, what the fuck you think you’re doing here? This is Hell, don’t you know that you were coming here? I’ve been playing with your demons all day.”
MISSIO summon their inner beast on the bombastic “Say Something” and “#gimmeakiss“, which according to Spotify streaming stats are two of the most popular tracks on VILLAIN. Both tracks last barely two minutes, but blast through the speakers like a sonic battering ram of grinding industrial synths and pummeling beats. It’s clear the guys had a lot of fun recording these bangers, which are more frantic than their usual style, and both need to be played at full volume!
“I Wanna Fight And You Know It” is an eerie, aggressive song in which Matthew speaks to his darker, more combative side: “People tell me that I may be the disease. Like I’m the crazy bitches in the sea. Maybe all of ’em are right when it comes to being shady. I wanna fight and you know it. I got my fists up tonight and you know it.” And on the anthemic “We Are Who We Are“, Matthew addresses the importance of being true to ourselves, and accepting our imperfections in order to live a life that’s honest and real: “Why do we try to live a lie? It isn’t worth it. Who you tryna please? ‘Cause if it’s me, it isn’t working. We are who we are. That can be hard to accept. We are all fucked up human beings.”
One of the more enjoyable tracks on the album is “Does Anybody Love Me“. I love the infectious upbeat vibe and hearty piano and bass-driven groove. The lyrics speak to overthinking and worrying too much about what others think of you, but also cognizant of the fact that many others do the same: “Does anybody love me? I don’t know. Is everybody lonely? I think so.”
The final three tracks on VILLAIN are more contemplative and melodic, beginning with “Failure to Comply“, a beautiful, powerfully moving song about a narcissist who’s unable to love or show empathy toward others: “What is it you’re looking for? What is it that leaves you wanting more? Will you ever fight for me? Will you ever love someone other than you?” The mournful piano and dramatic, sweeping instrumentals are gorgeous, as are Matthew’s deeply heartfelt vocals. My favorite song on the album, it’s spent the past three months and counting on my Weekly Top 30.
“Picture in My Pocket” is a beautiful love song, with a languid, almost jazzy feel. The warm piano keys, subtle percussion and strummed guitar are positively sublime, and Matthew’s gentle vocals have an enchanting ethereal quality as he softly croons “Hang on to love if it’s real. I want to believe. I have this picture in my pocket of a peace I won’t grieve. And then I saw you. And you saw me. And suddenly the world wasn’t as bad as once before.”
VILLAIN closes on a positive note with the stunning and cinematic “To the Universe“. The lyrics speak to living life with an open mind and an open heart, unafraid to take chances and follow your dreams: “Open your mind to ideas that you don’t like. It’s a beautiful world if you quit puttin’ up a fight. You can let your walls down and be who you want to be. ‘Cause it’s a beautiful world, you can scream it when you don’t believe. To the universe, to the universe. It’s where we’re headed.”
Their previous albums are all so exceptional, I wasn’t sure how MISSIO could possibly keep matching their quality, let alone top them. But how shortsighted and wrong I was to doubt them, as once again they’ve gifted us with a phenomenal album in the form of VILLAIN. Every single one of its tracks is outstanding, which is not something that can be said about very many albums. I remain a faithful and devoted fan.