Tuesday, January 29, 2019

CD Odyssey Disc 1222: Mother Mother

Last weekend I took a chance on the new Daniel Romano album despite some reviews that gave me pause and my last foray into his catalogue (2017’s “Modern Pressure”) being less than successful.

Romano’s new album, “Finally Free” didn’t even get so far as to earn a review. It is a bloated, self-indulgent mess from beginning to end. Since my requisite three listens would have been two more than I can stomach (three if I could go back in time) I will be free of “Finally Free” the next chance I get to sell it back to the record store. No I won't be reviewing it - you're welcome.

The funny thing is the only reason I took a chance on the album was because we were going to see Romano in concert next month. This album disappointed us so much we've decided not to go.

Like “Finally Free” I bought this next album in anticipation of going to their show and wanting to be familiar with their new material. The review of that album – and the show we saw last night – are both below. It is a much happier tale.

Disc 1222 is… Dance and Cry
Artist: Mother Mother

Year of Release: 2018

What’s up with the Cover? While this album is called “Dance and Cry” both people on the cover have opted for dancing. Good choice! Then again, we can’t see their faces so it is possible they are also crying, but I hope not – crying will just restrict their lungs and negatively impact their dancing.

How I Came To Know It: I’ve been a Mother Mother fan for a while now so this was just me buying their new album when it came out. Plus, I was excited at the upcoming live show.

How It Stacks Up:  I have five Mother Mother albums. Of the five, I put “Dance and Cry” in at third spot, bumping both “No Culture” and “Eureka” down a spot.

Ratings:  3 stars

Some bands just now how to write a pop hook, and Mother Mother is one of them. On “Dance and Cry” they take a similar anthem pop-rock approach as on “No Culture,” but has rounded out the edges and provided a slightly better record in the process.

“No Culture” was lead singer and writer Ryan Guldemond’s “getting sober” album and “Dance and Cry” features many of the same themes, and while the celebration of getting his life back is just as palpable there is a less manic quality to the work as a whole that gives it a more organic feel.

The party atmosphere still takes center stage and even on songs that explore depression like “So Down” there is a core of celebration in the melody that convinces you that everything is going to be OK. On the more upbeat songs like “Get Up” you get wolf howls and rapid-fire lyrics, plus a hook that would drive you to dance in a bank lineup. Even “Get Up” has its elements of doubt and this is the charm of Mother Mother; they realize that when you feel good, there will still be some nagging doubt, and when you’re down there will always be a core of optimism.

My favourite tracks are “It’s Alright” and “Bottom Is a Rock,” both of which have this same dichotomy built into them. “It’s Alright” is a reminder to anyone who has suffered from bad judgment or maybe just a little non-specific anxiety. Guldemond sings about a bad day filled with perceived mistakes, before the angelic voices of Molly Guldemond and Jasmin Parker respond with a verse reminding him:

“It’s alright, it’s OK
You’re not a monster
Just a human
And you’ve made a few mistakes.”

Molly Jasmin are critical to the band’s sound, giving songs texture and light with bright vocals that ride the song like a wave, sometimes matching and reinforcing Ryan’s delivery, and sometimes playing foil against it.

On “Bottom is a Rock” Guldemond observes that sometimes you are going to fall, and sometimes that fall is going to be something we need to rise up again. It is a fist-pumper of a sing-along party song, with a back-eddy message reminding us that even after you hit rock bottom there might be a few bounces still in you.

The music has solid guitar licks, but this is not guitar rock by any stretch – this is mainstream pop, given gravitas with thoughtful lyrics and arrangements. All three singers are talented but a big part of what makes the band so enduring is their ability to write solid hooks and build both lyrics and arrangements around those hooks that keep your ear interested even on repeat listens.

In their early years Mother Mother was a lot more raw in their song construction. “Dance and Cry” feels very polished by comparison, but this is not a detriment. Because while there is a lot of complexity and production going on the music never loses its jump and joyful energy.

Best tracks: Get Up, So Down, It’s Alright, Only Love, Bottom is a Rock

The Concert – Monday, January 28, Save-On Foods Memorial Arena, Victoria BC

Sheila wasn’t feeling one hundred percent and I wasn’t sure we were going to make it out last night, but I’m glad we did because once again Mother Mother did not disappoint.

We last saw them almost two years ago at the Save-On-Foods Memorial Arena and I was looking forward to the better experience – both visually and acoustically – offered by Victoria’s historic Royal Theatre.

Said the Whale

The opening act was Said the Whale, a fellow Vancouver band with a very similar sound that complemented Mother Mother well. They had two vocalists with different styles (one a bit more indie folk, the other on the pop side) who took turns at the mic.

In addition to warming up the crowd, Said the Whale ticked all the boxes for an opening act. They praised the headliner, they said their own name clearly at a time when there wasn’t too many shrieks drowning them out, and they shilled for their new record (even waving a copy around on stage, which I liked).

Said the Whale had some pretty solid tracks, and I recognized a few from trying to familiarize myself with the tunes in the lead up to the concert, but ultimately I decided against adding any of their albums to my collection, at least for now.

There was also a lot of genuine love between the band and Mother Mother, with many hugs and expressions of mutual appreciation.

Mother Mother

Mother Mother took the stage with a commanding presence following an intermission that felt overlong but was worth the wait. They had a pretty great light show, which was some combination of spooky forest and disco dance party. It set a good mood even when it was flashing in my eyes, which was often.

Mother Mother in concert has an incredible energy. Ryan Guldemond is a natural front man, and he is flanked on either side by the aforementioned Molly and Jasmin, both of whom are fully comfortable in the lights.

This is particularly true of Jasmin Parkin, who whirls around like a dervish and has dozens of dance moves, each groovier than the next. Molly isn’t as accomplished as a dancer, but she did steal the show when she sang a cover of Radiohead’s “Creep.” Bonus points for singing a song that Radiohead are too stuffed up to play themselves. It is a great song, Thom – play it!

In concert, Mother Mother is a lot more rock focused, with the guitar heavier in the mix and a lot of tasteful soloing. For all that, they make sure that even when they dress up their old songs in heavier production, they keep it true to the original melody and heart of the tune. Everything is recognizable, if a bit more bombastic.

The setlist was a fine selection of about half the new album getting played, plus a bunch of old standards including a few of my favourites, including “Ghosting” and “Hay Loft.”

At one point someone in the audience shouted for “Hay Loft” a second time to which Guldemond replied with “we already played it” and then noted that in every audience “there’s always a Hay Loft guy”. Sad, but true.

The audience was generally well behaved and came in on just the right side of boisterous – exuberant and energetic without becoming aggressive. They were even dressed pretty well, and I spotted more than a few parents taking their teens to the show.

My only disappointment was that during slow and quiet songs (Jasmin Parkin’s stripped down delivery of “Biting on a Rose” comes to mind) there were too many shouts and cheers. Shouts and cheers are for up tempo rock songs – when someone is getting quiet and poignant, have the courage to go there with them.

Overall, another great Mother Mother show at a venue that had great sound, a good crowd and a band with plenty of presence and talent.

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