For a long time, Mother Mother had quite the form. They were an alternative pop band, having the clear, fun hooks and catchy rhythms that get pop so popular and the grim and aggressive lyrics and colorful compositions that get many bands lumped into the alternative. Every album had a different character but the same core of gorgeous vocal harmonies, bitingly aware lyrics, and pure emotional catharsis. Every album of theirs helped me through a rough time, or at least a few rough emotions.
Every album until their sixth, “No Culture.” “No Culture” lacked the punch of a lot of Mother Mother’s other albums, falling away from the alternative and more towards the pop end. It might have been some people’s cup of tea but for me, it lost much of what made the band special: the emotional bite, the resonant lyrics, the interesting compositions, were mostly gone. The vocals were still good, but good vocals are a dime a dozen.
Their seventh and newest album is a return to form. With “Dance And Cry” Mother Mother returns to the melodramatic lyrics, the fun and catchy rhythms, the harmonies, and the interesting experiments that make them special.
This is an album that shows so much feeling that it helps you vent your own when you listen to it, and that’s a big part of what makes Mother Mother good. It’s also an album with a solid diversity of sounds and a whole lot of weird decisions, and that’s no small part of what makes Mother Mother good, either.
Judging from interviews, the band always has a lot of soul and emotion they’re venting, but it’s a matter of making sure that shows. Ryan Guldemond certainly can make it show. As a singer, he screams, jokes, laughs, and serenades across most albums. Guldemond’s chops are solid but it’s the range of noises and styles he uses to express the emotions that elevate him.
“Dance and Cry” is no exception. In the album’s opening, “I Must Cry Out Loud,” Guldemond plays it very straight, singing in low and hushed tones along melodic guitar and harps. Gradually, he falls into a bit of screaming and noises: “Why do I sing? Li-loe-la-loe-la-le.”
From there, Guldemond and the band only get more interesting and wild. they get energetic in “Get Up,” bringing out the “ah-ooo’s” and the “na-na-na’s” and all sorts of noises that punctuate a bouncy kind of talk-singing that throws back to the Talking Heads in a good way. In “So Down” Guldemond returns to Mother Mother roots, vacillating between a gentle folk style and lots of raw screams and shrieks. There’s a new experiment in form of a romantic interlude sung entirely by keyboardist Jasmin Parkin. It’s full of the shaky, long notes that give it a refreshing jazz lounge feel. Basically, Mother Mother is back to getting creative with their vocals, varying styles even within songs.
They get creative with their compositions and take some fun risks too. In “Bottom Is A Rock,” the band takes on country undertones with a hook that sounds about as pop country as anything. “I go down to rise up / I get dirty just to clean myself off/ I get dry, to get drunk,” yep, I could see Tim McGraw singing that. I’m no great fan of pop country, but the song is fun and Mother Mother makes it their own with a wild synth solo at the end.
“Dance And Cry” is full of risks like that and so it becomes pleasantly surprising, like a lot of their earlier albums. Admittedly, some of the risks don’t pan out. “Dance And Cry” has what I’d consider weak points.
“Good At Loving You” felt mediocre to me because its over the top lyrics sounded more trite than tongue in cheek and I felt the instrumentation was blandly poppy.
The two opening songs, “I must Cry Out Loud” and “Dance And Cry,” aren’t favorites of mine, either. They have nice touches, like the distortion on the vocals and instruments in “Dance and Cry” that give it a deranged feel or the hypnotic chords in “I Must Cry Out Loud,” but they both feel too on the nose. Mother Mother is normally on the nose, but again, it’s a careful balance between tongue in cheek and trite.
“Dance And Cry” is generally a cheesy mess, full of weird risks, jumps in vocal style, and bits and pieces from all their past albums. Because of that, it’s pretty great. It’s not totally clean and pretty, but it shouldn’t be. Nothing in Mother Mother’s core identity is clean– that’s just their pop veneer. Listen to the lyrics, pick at the weird little decisions they make in each track, and it becomes clear Mother Mother is at their best when they are off the wall, trying this and that and hoping for the best.
“Dance And Cry” is Mother Mother at their most, though maybe not their best. It still sounds like they’re searching for that right blend of pop and alternative. But to me, that’s a heartening return to form.