In 2019, Jeff Bartell formed a new band named "Mystery Gems" The new record "When You Become Real" is a dream pop mediation on the frictions evident in the Jeff's visual work: alluring and fuzzy with dark undertones that almost go unnoticed on first listen/view.
Inside Jeff Bartell's uninhibited search for depth in the darkness.
We first saw Jeff perform in 2016 at a Rye Pines show. He was playing bass in the band Magic Shoppe as they winded up for a Europe tour. I remember Jeff being completely transfixed during the performance, as if the driving pysch tones we we're experiencing were unfolding on a different plane.
After the tour, Jeff created a series of digital prints titled "Bathers". Shadowy half submerged figures floated on concise vector symbols. The simple "flat web design" visual language contrasted with the dark and foreboding subjects. Over the next couple years Jeff published more digital illustration series with increasingly ominous titles: "Harbingers" "Weepers" "Reavers" "Phantoms". The darkness and ego-death at the heart of a surreal artistic gesture is distilled in sugary, magnetic compositions. There is something loud and kind of terrifying going on here, but I also feel soothed and in somehow comfortable in it's presence.
In 2019, Jeff formed a new band named "Mystery Gems" along with fellow Magic Shoppe alums, Kate Murray (bass, vocals), Tim Cushing (guitars), Tayler Fitzpatrick (guitars), Derek Whitaker (drums). The new record "When You Become Real" is a dream pop mediation on the frictions evident in the Jeff's visual work. The record is alluring and fuzzy with darker undertones that almost go unnoticed on first listen/view. On the song "Descender" Jeff tones, "These days I'm afraid, again." Our fall into introspection is then snapped into a fractal pattern by the ricochet drums and distorted guitars. As the song takes flight we find ourselves in a sound that is sticky and elevated. The chorus of voices bounces around your head like all of the expressions of the people you pass on the street. Subliminal symbolic signals being transferred through shuffling glances, or smiling subway ads. The sound encourages an acceleration of the senses in hopes of observing the wider para-species interconnectedness of bio-chemical energy.
When Jeff approached us about collaborating on a video, we giddy-ly said yes. With his keen and distinctive art direction, we knew this would be a lifted experience and an opportunity to experiment with new lighting and video performance ideas. Our focus was on capturing performance that has as much energy and rhythm as the live show. Through the process of filming and directing Jeff, Derek, Kate, and Tim in the studio we developed a rhythm to the way the camera moves through the song. We took this experience outside for the final chorus of the song. Battery power lights mounted to a push-cart dolly and rigged with our camera swirls and spins around the ghost in the park. After layering in tons of visual reverb, kaleidoscope takes, and rhythmic cutting we had a video that would do justice to Jeff's vision for "Descender"
We met up with Jeff and the band to premiere "Descender" at Boston Open Screen, a monthly open-mic-for-films event at Coolidge Corner theater. The left-field screening included dense Sega game review, found footage political opera, high-school dirtball comedy, actor screentest, and our simulated-barbitchuate-esque music video. Seeing the film in this context and on the big screen really made me appreciate the uniqueness of Jeff's vision and sound. His charge into the dark subconscious of the psyche has made for a truly uninhibited and combustive body of work. At the networking hang after the screening, we caught up with Tim Cushing, who shared our admiration for Jeff, "Man, I really love that dude. I would do anything for that dude. Just really solid." After pressing him on the process of playing guitars for Jeff's project, Tim fawned, "It was just a really tight collaborative process, he basically came to me with material he had been working on and let me go. Very specific with what he was doing but also very hands-off. I had a lot of freedom to play around, and be really creative on the songs. Really great process." Check out the music video and pre-order "When You Become Real" on bandcamp and follow Mystery Gems for shows coming up. - JR