Mother Mother – The Sticks

A bit of a return to form without being a self-conscious rejection of the last five years. This is good – usually self-conscious returns tend towards being shitty facsimiles of a band’s glory years. Here MM aren’t exactly moving forward, but they’re reclaiming a bit of the old magic while still trying way too hard to make it big.
Like, really, it’s still early Mother Mother crossed with fucking Collective Soul. The best songs are easily the ones featuring their old style of acoustic way-up-the-neck guitar picking, with extra emphasis on whatever glimpses of self-expression you can find. To be fair, there are far more of both here than on the last album, and the heartbreaking “Dread In My Heart” is the real winner here. Otherwise… do you like alt-rock guitars with….stumpy Zeppelin drums? Then the title track might be just for you! How about with really simple lyrics about how lots of animals have sex? Then there’s a cute little lead single for you that isn’t at all reminiscent of the White Stripes’ “Instinct Blues.”
Look, i’m all for themes, and struggling to be happy in a shitty world and seeking to escape from said world are fine themes and all, but themes along can’t make a career, and I miss the quirky, folky wonders these guys used to be. The production tricks are still present and irritating – dig that awful “someone not in the song is yelling at you!” intro to “Cry Forum” for instance – and themes can’t make lyrics like “drugs can make a fuck last all night long” anything other than annoying, especially when they’re over a languid MuchMoreMusic beat.
But look, I’m all for simplicity when it works, so “Let’s Fall In Love” and “Love It Dissipates” are fine with me. I’m just nostalgic, you know? Seven years ago Mother Mother meant something, “man,” now they’re at one truly great song in two albums’ time, and it’s the one that sounds like their first album. The improvement here is that there’s a lot of “good” songs going on. Also quite a few failed attempts to create a ”rockin’ good time” so there’s that on the other side. But this ain’t no whiz-bang-pop, just a mere bang-fizz-shwizzle, so if you’re in the mood for that snorta thningk then the schmer, but if you’re unemployed and you have a music review blog and you need to listen several times to complete your Mother Mother reviews then it’s not so bad.

6 / 10

Mother Mother – Eureka

First of all, I don’t get why it’s okay to be a dickbag to people who don’t have kids. I was at a party last Friday, having a discussion about social policy (admittedly I was saying that the state should pay people on welfare for not having children they can’t care for), and a friend’s girlfriend, apropos not that much, interjected to tell me that if I don’t have kids then nobody will care about me when I’m old. Then, when I tried to ignore her she repeated it, only loudly so that everyone could hear. She’s normally a very demure, domestic character, so I can only gather that she thinks it’s socially acceptable to get all personal if it’s in the service of telling me I’m going to die alone. And I’m a guy; I have trouble imagining how annoying that’d be for a 29 year-old woman with no kids. Which is a lot of them, so what the hell?
And no, I’m not in a hurry to introduce another unwilling participant into the game of trying to battle suicidal thoughts every other day, which seems to be my genetic line’s lot. Why, this entire unemployed morning of mine was taken up by trying to order my dead mother’s birth certificate so that I can one day apply for Irish citizenship, because that’d be super neat, don’t you think?
And if they keep putting out albums like this one, their musical offspring will be stuck trying to order MOTHER MOTHER’S birth certificate, or something, because er…this album isn’t very good and stuff.
This album doesn’t sound much like Mother Mother, and while I’m all for artistic growth, these songs sound like a batch of kinda meh Mother Mother songs run through the Early Aughts-Production-O-Tron. There are random voice samples and production “tricks” all over the place, the drums are mixed way too loud, and the guitars are all glossy like a shitty Christian rock album. It’s like they’re trying to hit a weird chord of radio-ready “edginess”, angsty yelping, and still functioning art, and none it works like it should. There are big power chord guitars that drop in for musical breaks and choruses. There are blippy “voice appears and disappears” samples. There’s obnoxious speak-singing. There’s ain’t-I-cute really high notes. There are drum machines that come in for two bars then disappear. God, it’s almost unlistenable.
Here’s a couple more examples, both from the Prozzak-wannabe song “The Stand”: They blurred out the f-word all songs for no reason, then say it at the end, again for no real reason. Then the singer guy laughs at this hilarity like a total dipshit. Secondly, when the song mentions vodka on ice the production team thought it’d be nice to put in the ice clinking sound effect.
It’d maybe be more tolerant if the songs were spectacular, but they never get past being merely catchy. Especially “My Baby Don’t Dance,” but even that is halfway ruined by over the top attempts at cuteness. I get that we all want to have hits, but shiny production isn’t a surefire way to do it. And don’t get me started on the steady stream of uncute, unfunny couplets that pop up four or five times per song to make me roll my fucking eyes. I can’t anymore, it’s too infuriating, knowing how good these guys are capable of being.
On the plus side, that did help with my complaining about mental health and people hurting my fee-fees. So shitty music works in funny ways. Gotta run some errands. Thanks for the motivation, Mother Mother!

3 / 10

Mother Mother – O My <3

Hey, let me take a break from braiding my old-man nose hairs to tell you about Mother Mother’s second album, O My (picture of a heart). Yes, so intent am I on avoiding my real responsibilities that I almost took to counting how many of each kind of tea bag I have in my cabinet (nine Chai, fourteen chamomile FUCK STOP), so here’s something else to do with my li’l hands.
The next time someone asks you “, what is indie rock?” you can shove this album into their lives and say “The New Pornographers, but these guys are pretty good too.” Other than four medium-length-brown-haired white guys singing about lakes, of course, what could more typical than mid-tempo stompers with lots of pretty harmonies over typical instruments plus the occasional violin? Remember the one time the band Rogue Wave was shoehorned in some romantic comedy to show off said comedy’s cred? That was awkward. These guys are way better BECAUSE::::::::
The elements are typical, but MM’s execution is way fuckin weird. The melodies are from one main guy and two sisters, and their voices are all far too high and scratchy to ever sound normal. The basic tempo is similar throughout, but all the other instruments sure as sugar play at wacky speeds, giving everything a queer off-kilter feel that extends to the lyrics (more on that next paragraph). There’s the same campy, band-of-outcasts feeling from the first album that even when toned way down still sounds like rock music by way of artfaggery (not D&D nerdery though). I don’t know anything about their backgrounds but shh don’t spoil the illusion. And don’t worry your pretty little head about the melodies – they’ve got the acumen to cover nearly any amount of weirdness.
And the best part! Under all the mid-tempo stomping and lovely harmonies, these aren’t happy songs at all! Things are loaded with emotional distress, self loathing, and body dysmorphia. Truth be told (would I lie to you honey uh huh uh huh?), they’re better at coming up with song topics than lyrics themselves, but the melodies are topics are good enough that I can excuse the occasional repeating of a line for no reason (though the time they say “everybody be trying to change” in the middle of “Try To Change” is the one embarrassing moment on the album). Let’s run down a few of the song topics:
“O My Heart” – My heart won’t stop being hyperactive! I should commiserate with Stephin Merritt about this!
“Burning Pile” – I sure have a lot of problems! I’d like to burn them!”
“Try To Change” – I’m not passive, but I’m too static!
“Wisdom” – Me dumb!
“Hay Loft” – Hey, a third person song! Illicit sex and angry parents!
“Sleep Awake” – I have trouble sleeping, among other problems!
See, good times! But remember, happy sounding melodies and neat-o hooks! For my money the best songs are the radio friendly title track, the cathartic “Burning Pile,” the quirky uptempo “Hay Loft,” and the pensive Miley Cyrus cover “Wrecking Ball.” But there’s other good ones too!
And because I’ve only said positives, let me point out that a few songs are kinda meh, and I miss the more aggressive weirdness of the first album. But it’s still muy bueno. I would never judge anyone for their taste in music, but if you dislike this album then you are dirt.

8 / 10

Mother Mother – Touch Up

So it was that I was last weekend at a 21st birthday party, and I was taking to a 20 year-old about music, and she told me that her favourite band of late was Mother Mother, and I remembered that bands sometimes do, in fact, release new albums, not just stop performing once I’m old and I’ve seen them several times.

Fun fact: this group was originally just called Mother, and this album was released to no acclaim as just an acoustic guitar twiddler before they spent years overdubbing it to not sound like such tools. That’s a long time playing the same one album worth of songs. Zounds!

When I think about bands I like to think about their general aesthetic. Lucky for me, this bands approximates their by putting a charming yet perhaps psychotic five-headed rooster on the cover of the album. So now you get the point. Theirs is a twitchy world where the tune changes kilter at just-off intervals, but they’re nice enough to still have nice choruses twice per song, if not three times. So it’s comforting in its weirdness. That is good, that’s the whole difference between good weird and bad weird, if you think about it. Take note, socially awkward people.

I’ve had this brainworm for about two years now: an Insanity Wolf advice animal saying “Puts toothpick under toenail. KICKS WALL.” Thinking about it makes me shiver still. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll do it someday, just to try and get it out of my head. This album carries the understanding of such urges, though it never expresses anything like that. There’s two female singers and one male, and they all take turns singing in lovely harmonies and backups. One’s higher and one’s low and Etta-ish. It’s a solid arrangements.

Songs! The best is probably the opener “Dirty Town”, and getting the FO of an eponymously personalities locale, but there’s a lot here to love, all in the same acoustic-led-but-not-acoustic-yougetit drive. You know how you see a musical or Glee and it’s got all this both literally and figuratively gay stuff that’s 60% annoying and 40% amazing? This stuff keeps all the good parts – strange sexual preoccupations, makeovers, and contented alienation – and kicks out all of the kitschy crap, resulting in a joyride. When the gentle closer “Little Hands” ends it’s like waking up and realizing that molly dick doesn’t apply to you. It totally applies to me though. Fuck. But Mother Mother is a pleasant trip. Let’s keep them.

9 / 10

Frightened Rabbit – Pedestrian Verse

6 things about myself that this album proves to me:

1. I am a 90s boy.
This sounds like “Alternative.” By which i mean like Big Shiny Tunes 2. Every song on here sounds like a 1997 conception of what the mainstream would see as edgy. It’s more of a “sound” than a setting, though the setting is right too! Basic instruments, each with their own space in the mix, with the vocals dead in the middle and the treble about two notches higher than the bass. Sounds like being at some cool kid’s house in tenth grade and thinking he was so cool because he had mix CDs of bands that were cooler (but not too much cooler) than the bands on Much Music. Plus, fuck layers of synths, 80s drum machines, R&B wailing, and anything unknowingly cornball.

2. I am a sucker for hooks.
Really, the measure of whether I care about a song is the extent to which it sticks in my forebrain, and I enjoy listening to this because, no matter what else, these guys have a nose for putting hooks everywhere. Nearly every song on here has at least a couple hooks, and often in strange places – memorable repeated drum fills, codas, the way a baseline rides a drum line. They were better at writing breakup songs than they are here at tackling 30-something ennui, but anything can be forgiven with enough hooks hooks hooks. Try to get that line about being trapped in a collapsing building out of your head once you hear it – zounds that’s catchy, and out of nowhere! I still have “Call Me Maybe” stuck in my head from last summer.

3. I am a sucker for big singles.
The big problem here is that there are no huge breakouts that tower above the rest. There’s about ten “very good” songs, but zero that rise above that. And damnit, those are the ones that really matter, this isn’t baseball, where you can lack superstars but have a bunch of good players and still make the playoffs. The last album wasn’t very good on the mode, but the singles live on in my hard drive forever – this is a much better album overall, but there’s no “Living In Colour” or “Nothing Like You.” The best might be the lead single, “State Hospital,” but that’s because it’s a very impressive song (dem lyrics!), not because it’s stupid catchy.

4. I like Scottish accents.
Not the least because I can correctly call it a “brogue.” But really, it makes every song have a bit of subliminal greatness. And occasionally liminal, but usually it’s just an air of yes that makes the occasional dull verse a bit better.

5. I’m an emo little man.
I miss the constant references to drinking to excy ess. I like the constant references to unhappiness to excess. Other than “State Hospital” (aww, poor people!), and the “Housing” mini-songs (aww, urbanity!), I can’t really be bothered with much else. I’m over the lack of breakup songs, but that’s probably my lengthy current relationship talking. I really want to love the Modest Mousey self-deprecating song, though it just isn’t catchy enough to make up for its rather simple self-deprecation. And it’s nice and all that FR are trying to write songs about people other than the lead singer’s personal experiences, but those songs have to work harder to pique my appreciation, due to the fact that see above.

6. I love shitty songs, but on random compilations.
This album is about four songs too long. Those songs should be fucked like the worthless whores that they are. Come on, there’s no way that they didn’t know that “If You Were Me” and “December’s Traditions” are fairly crap.

7 / 10

Frightened Rabbit – State Hospital EP

Well, it’s my last night alone in my shared condo before I move in with my girlfriend, so I’m sitting here wearing an unzipped sweater, with my belly just kinda hanging out. It’s awful and I wish I was different. Let’s talk about this little EP.
FR’s last EP was pretty goddamned good – all pathos and Scottish accents and catchy songs. This one has too many damned slow songs. If this is a lead single then I fear for the future. The title track feels like the 90s, all slow, real drums and a melody that’ll stick with you if you pay attention, and hey, it’s about poverty, which is a heck of a topic to pull off for a band that’s best at writing breakup songs. It’s not much of a single, but it’s a solid song, and genuinely evocative. Shit, it’s like a sweet, Scottish Tracy Chapman song, kinda. But all Death Cabbed up, naturally.
But you don’t have to go far to find a breakup song, because “Boxing Night” is back to spending the holidays getting drunk again, and you just know that’ll make me love, and it’s catchy and mostly acoustic, too! Sounds emo, but the matter-of-factness and sarcastic drawling of “call me whenever the fuck you want” save it by a longshot, if you aren’t familiar with FR.
Sadly, the next three songs are definite B-side fodder, and I’m too tired to be articulate about them. They’re all kinda boring, but then a line about a chain-smoking factory reminds me that, really, this is a special little band. They display all the signs of a being a regular nonsense indie band, but the brogue combines with an ability to articulate things that interesting people feel, married to catchy-ass hooks, and without knowing them I’d say they sound like the best normal band ever.
But, man, this is the lead single? An excellent but album trackish title track, a great B-side, and three throwaways? They could’ve at least thrown in who gives a fuck.

6 / 10

Metric – Synthetica

So let’s pretend that you’re not that cool anymore. Yes, you, the one with the perfect hair that we hate and despair at and love. You’re our Leslie Feist, lead singer of Metric, for today. You used to be hip and underground and have a sweet apartment in Parkdale when Parkdale was seedy, but now you’re just somewhat successful and generally forgotten. What do you do? Do you:
a) Go back to your roots and reclaim your long-lost electro-rock sad sincerity,
b) Find a new sound, at the risk of alienating your fleeing fans,
c) Say “fuck it,” embrace the money, and write catchy songs for indie radio that you can sell to commercials, or
d) Pretend you’re still hip and cared by singing lines like “I’m as fucked up as they say,” and write songs that desperately want to be popularity while desperately sounding like you don’t care about popularity.

If you guessed d), then you may be Leslie Feist, lead singer of Metric! Every song on here tries to cling to hipness lost, but not by being original or clever, but detached and distant. And that doesn’t work with these fuzzy, mostly hookless, produced-as-fuck regular rock songs. Emily Haines still sounds like she’s too cool for you, but she also sounds like she could be the topic of a version of “Fuck Me Pumps” made for girls with half-shaved heads. And the band? They sound like as normal and safe a three-piece band as there’s ever been. They come up with a couple good grooves, but nothing exciting.
Once, Leslie and her Metrics were pretty exciting, but that was back when I was in high school. Now that fake girlish voice tic in “Lost Kitten” makes me want to retch. Having Lou Reed blandly intone one line over and over in “Wanderlust” doesn’t add anything. The extent that the title track and “Youth Without Youth” want to be big stadium rockers is actually a bit sad.
Sympathy is something I like feeling for Elliott Smith because he’s sad, not a singer like Leslie Feist because she wants to be ice queen of the hipsters but will (almost certainly) never escape being an answer to a Canadian Trivial Pursuit arts question. But so it is. You can’t sing “Nothing I’ve ever done right / Happens on the safe side” on one of the safest, “put me in your commercial!” albums I’ve heard in a long time, but that’s what’s here. Should kept the social scene together, amirite?

3 / 10