Saturday, March 25, 2017

CD Odyssey Disc 985: Mother Mother

Welcome back to the CD Odyssey – early Saturday morning edition! However, I’m up and I want to write about the concert I saw last night while it is still fresh in my mind.

You’ll find that concert review below, immediately following my thoughts on the album the tour was promoting.

Disc 985 is…No Culture
Artist: Mother Mother

Year of Release: 2017

What’s up with the Cover? My biggest complaint about this cover is there is far too few ink smears and far too much baby.

How I Came To Know It: I heard that Mother Mother was coming to town and I like a lot of their other albums, so I decided to buy their new release. This way I’d be familiar with their new material when I saw them in concert. A concert is immeasurably more enjoyable when the band has new material, and when the audience is familiar with it.

How It Stacks Up:  I have four of Mother Mother’s six albums. I bought “Touch Up” but never liked it and got rid of it before it made it to the review stage. I wasn’t keen enough from what I heard on “Very Good Very Bad Thing” to buy it at all. Of the four I have, “No Culture” falls third best, displacing “Eureka” down to fourth in the process.

Ratings: 3 stars

When I reviewed “Eureka” back at Disc 454 I noted that every band is allowed at least one dance album. “No Culture” is Mother Mother’s sobriety album, which is also a common album for bands (at least the lucky ones where the addicts don’t die). Principal writer and lead singer Ryan Guldemond is the focal point here, and he documents sobering up and just how it feels throughout the record.

Despite the sometimes somber self-examination, the songs on “No Culture” don’t lose the lively energy and joie de vivre that typifies Mother Mother’s sound. The soaring melodies and nightclub dance beats are still there, buoying everything with contained energy. Sometimes that’s the problem, because the band strays far enough into that mindless beat culture that it sometimes risks becoming it. For the most part, however, they stay on the right side of that line.

In many bands backup vocalists are an afterthought, there to thicken up a chorus or sing some refrain in the background. In Mother Mother backup vocalists Molly Guldemond and Jasmin Parker are front and centre, and their girlish and innocent delivery is a key part of the band’s sound. They also play the organs that drive the song like most rock bands are driven by guitar. At times I felt bad for Ryan Guldemond’s guitar on this record, but Mother Mother is not about guitar, at least not in the studio (more on that later).

The one exception to this rule is the crunchy rock-riff of the opening track “Free” but even there the sound is juxtaposed with vocal harmonies and hand claps. Make no mistake, Mother Mother is a pop music band.

The album’s best song (and likely radio hit) is “Love Stuck.” This song exemplifies the best the album has to offer, with Molly and Jasmine giving a delightful “oh-ah ha ha” in the background, lots of stops and starts to punctuate the songs rhythms and a joyous feeling that makes you want to raise your hands and sing along. If you pay attention to what you’re singing, you’ll find Ryan Guldemond admitting how he has lost relationships and even – at some level – the ability to feel at all. Only now in the light of sobriety is he starting to see the way clear.

The album is a thoughtful exploration of these themes, including writing letters to those you’ve wronged (“Letter”), how addiction affects those closest to you (“Baby Boy”) and direct references to the mixture of fun and compulsion of those drugs were while it was happening (“The Drugs”, “Mouth of the Devil”). The album reads a bit like what I imagine an AA meeting looks like.

For all this, after a few repeat listens I was starting to feel restless and ready to move on. The way these songs are constructed feel a lot like a sugar rush (a metaphor directly referenced in the title track). Giddy and fun and full of energy, but leaving you still hungry and a little tired. Maybe Guldemond’s making a musical point that these songs are like the drugs he used to love; fun in the moment but not leaving you with anything meaningful when it’s over.

The album ends with “Family,” an uplifting song about the importance of family, and no matter how crazy Guldemond’s family might be, he’s got their back and vice versa. When sister Molly sings “And if you’re standing on the ledge/I’ll pull you down, put you to bed” it is touching and believable. As Robert Frost once wrote “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.

Best tracks: Free, Love Stuck, The Drugs, Mouth of the Devil, Family

The concert – Friday, March 24 at the Save-on-Foods Memorial Arena

I wasn’t sure I wanted to see Mother Mother after agreeing on a whim to go some months ago. Pop isn’t usually my thing, but I liked enough of their music I decided to give it a go. So after dinner with friends and a couple rum and cokes in my system we headed over to the Save-On-Foods Memorial Arena. As an aside, a lot of people lobbied hard to keep the word “Memorial” in that name, so try to remember to do it yourself when you talk about it.

K. Flay

The opening act of the show was K. Flay, which is the stage name for Kristine Flaherty of Los Angeles.

Flay’s sound is a cross between an indie progressive rapper and a garage band, with the music moving back and forth between crunchy guitar riffs (and a bit of well-placed clangor) and stream-of-consciousness style rhymes. She also works in a bit of ambient Gothic rock sound. The mix is a disparate one, but it works.

Flay is not glitz and glamour and it is apparent she takes pride in keeping it real; dressed down in jeans and a non-descript white t-shirt. She lets her long black hair fall in her face like that ghost from the movie “The Ring,” only less murdery.

Flay did a short set but a good one. At times it sounded like the background music for some modern vampire movie, and at other times it just rocked. By the time she got to the end and sang the irresistibly cool “Blood in the Cut” I was sold. Not sold enough to buy the record, mind you, but it was a good time and I’d see her again.

Mother Mother

Mother Mother then took the stage, dressed in their usual understated black and white duds. They opened with “Free” and I thought that this would be their one “rock it out” song to get the crowd going (see above). I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Mother Mother in concert is a different experience than Mother Mother on CD. Here, the guitar soared to the front and the songs arrangements were crunchy and rock-driven. It was just as good, yet felt novel and exciting. There is no need to feel bad for Guldemond’s guitar live – it dominates and while he’s no Mark Knopfler, he knows how to serve the song.

They even threw in a couple classic rock tracks, with Molly singing Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades” and Jasmin singing Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused.”

It is clear the band loves to perform, and with the high energy of Ryan Guldemond centre, sister Molly on one side and Jasmin Parker on the other, all equally at the front of the stage, it feels like there are three band leaders not one. I was particularly happy that Jasmin Parker (who I have a bit of a crush on) was on my side of the stage. She did not disappoint, whirling around like a dervish and then racing back to her keyboards just in time to deliver some licks.

Ryan Guldemond was on point all night, running around with enthusiasm and singing with gusto – at one point disappearing from stage to make an appearance in the cheap seats, where he warbled out an atmospheric solo and took selfies with the hipster crowd.

He did the right proportion of crowd banter through the show, although by the end the variations on “we are in this together” and “you are all special flowers” started to wear a bit thin for me. Still, when I heard some 12 year old girl excitedly quoting his “we are all stars wrapped in skin” bumpf after the show I allowed that there were worse lessons to teach kids.

The set list was strong (Sheila later told me they mostly played their hits, but since I only know them through the albums I wouldn’t have known). I liked that there were a lot of tracks off my favourite album “O My Heart” including a pretty version of my favourite track, “Ghosting,” played as part of the encore.

The new album got a lot of love, and I counted five songs from there, most of which were my favourites. I could have used a few more songs off of 2012’s “The Sticks” and a few more deep cuts, but these are minor quibbles.

I always fear bad sound at stadium shows, but it was pretty solid throughout so kudos to the sound guys (who Mother Mother tastefully singled out for praise during band introductions – nice touch!).

As this was a young pop music crowd I was worried that previous bad experiences with this (The Shins, Metric) were going to recur, but the crowd was a pleasant surprise. I kind of like that whole waving of the cell phone lights thing folks do now and there were even a few old-school lighters bravely fluttering away.

There were occasional irritations, including an overly rambunctious dude dancing in front of me, but you’ve got to allow folks to dance at a rock show. Near the end some jerk cut off my line of sight to Jasmin with his ridiculously tall haircut, but I think I was just jealous I can’t make my hair stand up that high anymore. I reluctantly shifted my focus to the lead singer.

Overall, this was a great show and a band I would go see again. Mother Mother filled the room with energy from the very start, and the only time things slowed down were deliberate moments to let you better appreciate riding the next wave that much more.

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