Mother Mother is back, and they’re hitting hard with a darker, raucous sound on their fourth studio album The Sticks, due out this September 18th. I had mixed feelings listening to this album, but I believe the word that best sums up the overall experience is: epic. The band has delivered a powerful pack of hit songs, layering distorted instruments and cynical lyrics while retaining the original sweetness of their vocal harmonies. Let’s dive in, shall we?
We open with ‘Omen’, an excellent prelude building up to the hit that the album takes its name from, ‘The Sticks’. This is the sort of song one envisions as the soundtrack to some wildly big and spectacular sci-fi movie, complete with eerie warehouses and nighttime flights on hoverboards. Paradoxically, the lyrics concern running away from the city to live in the woods. It’s an enjoyable contrast, and an enjoyable song – my favourite line being: “I’ll bring my heart to break / Gonna find some pretty Wiccan thing”.
Next up is the hit that’s already in frequent rotation on the airwaves, ‘Let’s Fall in Love’. This is a fresh new take on an old gem, originally written in 1928 by Cole Porter and covered many times over (my favourite version takes place in the movie Tank Girl). It’s a great homage to a classic song, and will no doubt get you out of your seat and dancing. At times it almost sounds like Metric frontwoman Emily Haines is singing along, but I guess that’s just this reviewer’s wishful thinking.
‘Businessman’, the track that follows, is a hard-driving, body-rocking good time, seamlessly mixing twangy guitar riffs and futuristic electro pop. Clever, funny lyrics complete the package. The sweet, relatable ‘Dread in my Head’ takes us back to the days of old skool Mother Mother, with soft, harmonized vocals over a lone guitar. And then we’re met with ‘Infinitesimal’, a playful number with a killer beat and a catchy chorus. If you’re not singing along by the end, there might be something wrong with you.
Now we move into the slower, sadder side of the album. Track seven, ‘Happy’, just makes me want to give Ryan Guldemond (lead singer and principal songwriter of the band) a big ol’ hug. ‘Bit by Bit’ I can only assume is an account of the band’s current state, emotionally – seeking a retreat from the fame and the city and the noise, escaping to the forest and simpler pleasures. This certainly seems to be the theme of the album, as almost all of the songs revolve around this feeling. It feels a bit one-note from here on out – ‘Latter Days’ and ‘Little Pistol’ merely reinforcing the dissatisfaction felt with modern times. There’s a brief spot of redemption with the jazzy ‘Love it Dissipates’, which manages to be both cheeky and sensual. And then it’s ‘Cry Forum’ and ‘Waiting for the World to End’, which again are on the same page of doom and dismay. Though still musically enjoyable, I felt this part of the album just sort of run into one long note of overwhelming depression and hopelessness. I longed for the simple joy of songs like ‘Neighbor’ and ‘Hayloft’ – and indeed the dancier tracks that preceded their gloomy neighbors on The Sticks. But I can understand needing to vent or express oneself through art or music, and the dark places we all find ourselves in sometimes. Starting as a small folk band from Quadra Island and making it as a chart-topping city-dwelling non-stop-touring band is no doubt stressful, and the strain is reflected here.
We round off with ‘To The Wild’, which I hope is the band’s immediate plan – it sounds as though they could do with a serious vacation. The same melody for ‘Omen’ plays, and the whole thing comes full circle. Though I may have been happier stopping halfway in, it’s a solid effort, beautifully composed and building on the accomplishments of previous albums. Put the first half on for a party and the second half on for a breakup, and if you happen to see the band out and about, give them a hug and the address of a quiet little cabin somewhere, won’t you?
– By Naomi