Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Mother Mother

I discovered the Vancouver based indie-rock group Mother Mother sometime in 2009. At the time, I was blown away that a band with only two albums in their back catalogue could sound so honed, so experienced. It probably helps that at the centre of Mother Mother is the brother/sister team of Ryan and Molly Guldemond. While the band itself was only formed in 2005, it would make sense that the two would have made music together in the past.

It is hard for me to review either of the band's albums (2007's Touch Up and 2008's O My Heart) without falling into the trap of gushing like a schoolgirl without making any real objective critique. This is because after a lot (and I mean a lot) of repeat listens to both, I am still amazed by their quality, as well as the fact that no-one in my country seems to have heard of them. Instead of even trying to do a proper review, I will instead try to justify why I like them so much.

I first discovered Mother Mother upon hearing one of their more well-known singles, a track called Ghosting. It was love at first listen. The song opens with a few gentle string riffs, before moving onto an acoustic guitar melody and the sweetly understated voice of Ryan Guldemond. The insightfully poetic lyrics are probably what got me hooked so quickly. Guldemond compares himself to a homeless ghost haunting the object of his affections. The song continues as a gentle acoustic number, building to a climax as the singer makes somewhat unnerving ghostly promises over a slightly heavier string-fueled backdrop. The song then segues beautifully from this section to the stripped back conclusion where the protagonist of the song reveals that he has decided to leave the situation alone.

"And this is why I have decided
 To pull these old white sheets from my head
I'll leave them folded neat and tidy
So that you'll know I'm out of hiding"

Even though I have listened to this song more than 70 times according to iTunes (I would call this a conservative estimate) I still can't listen to it without sighing wistfully.

From there, I got my hands on both of their albums. Often when I look into an artist because of an individual song, I find myself disappointed. In this case, I found myself a new favourite band.

Touch Up is extremely impressive for a debut album. Consider the fact that it was released only 2 years after the band first started playing together and it is even more impressive. What I love the most about the songs on this album is the way the band plays around with structure. This is perhaps most evident on the schizophrenic ballad "Oh Ana". The song jumps from calm, gentle vocals to loud, frenzied cries begging for Ana to hear them, before returning to the previous state of calm. The song is obviously written about anorexia, although it is unclear who in the band has been touched by the disorder. Unlike many songs written about such issues, the lyrics are very thoughtful and philosophical.

"I'll fake god today
Hop up on a cloud and watch the world decay
Ana on my shoulders and we'll laugh away
Faking this god can't be good for Ana's safety"

Other album highlights include Dirty Town and the wonderfully creative Tic Toc (unrelated to the pop hit of the same name, which I haven't actually heard due to the cultural bubble with which I have surrounded myself).

Then there was O My Heart, released only a year after Touch Up. Through what I can only explain by accusing the band of being wizards, it was just as good as their debut, if not better. This was the album from which Ghosting arose. Since I have already gone into detail about that track, I will spare you from a lengthy rant about how great this album was. I will simply say that there wasn't a single song on it that I thought dropped the ball in any way, and am even working on my own cover of Arms Tonite, despite the curious misspelling.

I would recommend this band to... well, anyone I talk to, really. Mother Mother is one of those bands that I will recommend purely on the basis that I think more people should have heard of them. Check them out. Seriously.

-Smackie Onassis

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Detektivbyran - Wermland

I may look and act like a total punk, what with the tattoos and track record of violence, but really, my favourite genres are probably folk and twee. If anyone calls me on it I usually just tell them my look is a subtle Belle & Sebastian/Darren Hanlon* reference.

It is because of this that a Swedish folk/electronica band by the name of Detektivbyran (Swedish for ‘The Detective Agency’) caught my eye. I try to listen to as much music as I can, from all genres, but electro and its variants I find very hard to get into. The way to get my interest is of course, to add a folk influence into the mix. 

From the way they were described on their wikipedia page, I knew I had to give these guys a listen. An electronica band that experiments with “unpopular” instruments such as accordion and glockenspiel? Ready please, Mr Music!

So, I downloaded their most recent album ‘Wermland’. Unsurprisingly, I love it. The prominent beats and bass lines are at their least obnoxious when combined with the music-box charm of gentle tuned percussion. Admittedly, this is an album that will appeal more to fans of experimental folk than most electronic music. I would say the experimental folk influence is much stronger here than any other genre.

Instead of picking out favourite tracks, I would recommend listening to this album as a whole. While I’m sure the tracks would work as individuals, this is one of those albums where it is best to appreciate the build between tracks, the way the instruments play off each other throughout the songs. There are no lyrics to tell the story, but the album only benefits from being an instrumental. Some people might say that there is only so much accordion they can listen to in one sitting. I am not one of those people.

-Smackie Onassis

*"I'm A Cuckoo"/"Punk's Not Dead"

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Bay of Pigs EP

When Dan Bejar dropped 2004's "Your Blues", it was obvious he was going somewhere interesting, and he did: over the next four years he released the loud, involving "Destroyer's Rubies" followed by last year's slower, hazy "Trouble in Dreams" - both albums full of serious highlights with no filler.

But finally, in August, Bay of Pigs EP was released. It's about as long as your average EP, although the duration is divided between only two songs: the title track and Trouble in Dreams' track "Rivers" reworked into slow dive "Ravers".

First off, Bay of Pigs is one of the best Destroyer songs, ever. Described in most places as Ambient Disco, the track is really too eclectic to classify, that title only hinting at where it goes. Opening with a droning synth phasing in and out, Bejar leads you through gentle beeps and bleats, strumming almost dance-worthy bare bones rock and finally hits you with a sudden stop and ambient fadeout. If it sounds disjointed, it isn't. With Dan Bejar's inpenetrable lyrics and unique rhythm of speaking, despite registering almost 14 minutes, I repeatedly found myself suprised that the song was even over.

"Magnolia's a girl. Her heart's made of wood.
As apocalypses go, that's pretty good.
Sha-la-la, wouldn't you say?"

Second track "Ravers" picks and chooses the best bits of Rivers and slows it down to a trickle, bubbling along on dreamy dabs of bass and erupting into quite an unexpected and beautiful crescendo, and the only bad thing that could be said about it is that compared to Bay of Pigs it doesn't seem quite so incredible - but that has more to do with the achievements of the title track, which I would say is a genuine contender for the best of the year.