By Mother Mother
Originally released in September 2008, Canadian five-piece Mother Mother have finally gotten around to releasing their second album, 'O My Heart' in the UK, and it's a difficult album to categorise. The only common threads running through the whole twelve tracks are a penchant for grim lyrics sang in a deceptively gleeful manner, and gorgeous tri-vocals courtesy of vocalists Ryan and Molly Guldemont, and Jasmin Parkin. Without fail, each song delivers contrasting, complimenting, luxuriously harmonised and intriguing vocals - sometimes all at the same time.
The strongest tracks, are previous singles 'O My Heart' and 'Hay Loft,' and 'Wisdom' and 'Burning Pile.'
'O My Heart' simmers with the repressed darkness that characterises much of this album. Despite the crisp veneer of Ryan, Molly and Jasmin's dizzying vocal ballet, 'O My Heart' is built on an unsettling, sinuous bassline. The vocals - which on this song rip across your ears like shrapnel as frequently as they soothe - are something you'll either love or hate, and if you can't stomach 'O My Heart' at its most abrasive, then there really is no point continuing with the rest of the album. An acquired taste but, if you have a soft-spot for the unusual vocal, or hooks sharp enough to decapitate, then proceed straight to Mother Mother's nails-down-a-chalkboard ode to barn sex, 'Hay Loft.' Potentially dangerous territory, 'Hay Loft' takes love-it-or-hate-it to the extreme. Silly, irritating, addictive, and bristling with some of the shrillest vocals you'll ever hear coming from a human being. One of those songs you'll either have on repeat for days on end, or never, ever want to hear again.
Meanwhile, it's the choruses that really sell album highlights 'Burning Pile' and 'Wisdom.' Both tracks are chock full of gooey pop harmonies that jab into slanted, spiteful hooks at a nanosecond's notice. Both songs also make good use of Mother Mother's ever-present folky vibe. The squeaky slide-guitars and acoustic clatter and twang of 'Burning Pile' lulls you into a pleasant, foot-tapping fug, before launching into the impassioned roar of a camp fire sing-along. It's overwhelming, and it's only a matter of time before you join in. Meanwhile, 'Wisdom' plays the three vocalists against one another, as Molly and Jasmin's wispy vocals float and flutter around Ryan's awkwardly-shaped yelp of "wisdom / wisdom / where can I get some?" Here, Mother Mother cover every base with their vocals, delivering the sharp, indie-centric vocal hook and the delicious, alt-pop crooning. Some bands are just greedy.
The chorus of 'Body of Years' isn't quite of 'Burning Pile' / 'Wisdom' calibre, but it does boast one hook that'll get you salivating. This is one of those songs that's just relentless. You could probably count the number of breaths Ryan takes during the course of 'Body of Years' on your fingers. But, the killer hook comes when those single-minded vocals suddenly veer off into a steady, sublime sway. After so much vocal thrusting, this time-out is attention-grabbing, and feels more than a little surreal. A relentless song, with one melt-in-the-mouth pop hook. And, Mother Mother turn out more hammering vocals on the similarly-entitled 'Body.' This time around they contrast the punchy verses, against the lilting vocals and strings of the chorus. A booming verse and a chorus to drift along to. Once again, Mother Mother prove themselves to be a very greedy band.
As already mentioned, Mother Mother songs are frequently grim, ghoulish creatures, masquerading under a banner of acoustic guitars and harmonised "oooooh"s and "ahhhhh"s. Cases in point: 'Arms Tonite' and 'Wrecking Ball.' The former is an eager, merry little acoustic ditty about that happiest of subjects: death. The sparky vocal interplay and bouncy-ball drumbeats cut a quirky contrast against the lyrical content, in the best sort of black humour, and the vocal interplay during the chorus turns on a knife-edge. 'Wrecking Ball's darkness also comes from the lyrical content. On the surface, this song is a light, airy bit of throwaway folk-pop fluff, but beneath the easy melodies is a tale about violently destructive anger. 'Wrecking Ball' continues the Mother Mother tradition of pulling the listener in two contrasting directions. No-one could accuse this band of being boring.
'Sleep Awake' is the only song on this album that doesn't keep up the pleasant facade. The lyrics may be vague, but they do drop enough grim words and phrases in there to keep the listener suitably unnerved and, intoned in a sweet, tentative lilt, the overall effect is as spine-tingling as any horror movie. The backdrop is comprised of one part bass, and three parts steady, ghoulish croon. One of the sweetest, most unsettling songs you're likely to hear.
One of the most intriguing tracks on this album, is 'Ghosting,' which recounts the saga of a ghost who decides to leave the house he's been haunting, told from the ghost's perspective. Even on an album which feature songs about wishing you didn't have a nose, 'Ghosting' stands out. For one, the tone is noticeably more sedate, as Ryan puts on his best serious voice and warbles about the pitfalls of said ghost, amongst waves of soft "whooooo" backing vocals and sparkling slide-guitar. A beautiful change of pace that, wisely, doesn't peter out, instead opting to reunite the three vocalists for a rousing cry of "you don't need treats / you don't need tricks" that puts the closing hook on this unique, folk ghost story.
Next to the rest of the album, 'Try To Change' and 'Miles' fall flat. 'Miles' is a gorgeous, drowsy lament with lullaby lyrics and blissful vocals. It's a good song - the problem is that few people will be willing to sit through a 'good' song when they can hit the 'skip' button and listen to songs like 'Wisdom' and 'Burning Pile.' The same goes for the wafting, down-tempo 'Try To Change,' which swaps sharp edges for molten "ooooooh"s and "ahhhhhh"s. It's another beautiful, heady, alt-pop and folk mash-up, but again, next to the rest of this album it feels pretty boring.
Why it took Mother Mother so long to release this album in the UK, is anybody's guess but, on the bright side, at least we don't have long to wait for the follow-up: the third Mother Mother album is due for release this autumn. While the more abrasive vocals might turn a few people off, 'O My Heart' has something for anyone with a passing fondness for indie, pop, or folk, and is nothing short of a feast for the ears, in terms of vocals. Gorgeous harmonising; quirky vocal contrasts; bludgeoning pop choruses; and songs that cover such diverse topics as being a ghost, barn sex, trying to escape from the afterlife, and sleeping with one hand on your 45. Mother Mother are one of those rare bands who seem to be out to make exactly the sort of music they'd want to listen to, and in doing so, create something a whole lot of people are going to fall in love with.