“It is cruel, you know, that music should be so beautiful. It has the beauty of loneliness of pain: of strength and freedom. The beauty of disappointment and never-satisfied love. The cruel beauty of nature and everlasting beauty of monotony.”
Regular visitors to this site might have picked up that we have some vague, largely unspoken interest in music, but just what is it that makes music, in our opinion, above all other art forms so fascinating? Why do we love music and what is it about it that manages to lift our very emotional core?
This outpouring of inward glancing analysis was triggered by a gig we attended last week headlined by today’s featured artist, Mothers. We were one of around 100 people packed into a room not much larger than your average Hertfordshire sitting room. The room was nearly pitch black, the audience so tightly jammed that were it a tube carriage, you’d consider waiting for the next one before becoming so obsessed with that extra two minutes that you trample a small child and press yourself into an overweight man just far enough that the door whizzes past your ear. What other situation would drive a person to actively seek out such discomfort?
The band emerged with no hoo-ha, barely said a word and utterly blew the entire room away. The piercing vocals, the tight rolling rhythms, the sheer emotional beauty of the spectacle. This was music that shot straight to your very soul, music that finds your mind whizzing from one hyperbole to another, “this is music that makes us write this site?”, not strong enough, “this is what music is meant to sound like”, too all encompassing, not free enough, “this is what makes getting out of bed in the morning worthwhile”, nailed it. It’s that feeling that is so magical and so rare, that feeling that for whatever reason this music matters, this band are more important than the notes they’re playing or the words they’re singing, this band are the point of life as we know it. These occasions are so rare, once, twice, maybe three times in our lifetime, has music grabbed us like this. Music without a story, music without a previous emotional attachment, music without memories. Just simply music for music’s sake.
There are so many ways we can appreciate and enjoy music; there’s music where you admire the technicality but struggle to hit an emotional reaction, acts who’s lyrics grab you but the tune doesn’t follow, acts who are coated in a sugary layer of nostalgia, enjoyed for who you were not who you are. Then every now and then there are bands that make all the components click into gear, bands who seem to effortlessly align some unwritten rules and hit you square in the chest with a sheer jolt of adrenaline, those bands are special, those bands are the ones worth holding onto.
Athens, Georgia is one of the world’s most surprising musical hotbeds, a small city, only the sixth biggest in its state, there really is little reason why so many incredible bands have come through the cities musical scene; but from REM to Indigo Girls, Neutral Milk Hotel to Deerhunter, Eureka California to Mothers, the city continues to produce a huge array of varied, versatile and brilliant bands. The scene, that was built from the 40 Watt Club and the Uptown Lounge in the 1970’s, through the college led LSD inspired 1980’s, and the rise of the Elephant Six group in the mid-1990’s, has always been relevant and always progressive and shows no signs of diminishing.
It is in the context of the scene that built them that Mothers must be judged. Their artsy collegiate take on alternative-rock glistens with the sound of the city that birthed it. With their debut album, When You Walk A Long Way You Are Tired, they seem to have emerged into the wider world fully formed, they sound not like a new band but like a band who have slowly worked, honed and crafted themselves into perfect shape for the challenges and success that seems as if it will inevitably be theirs. They borrow their influences liberally and from varied source material; tracks like Lockjaw and closer Hold Your Own Hand bristle with a maths-rock edge, Too Small For Eyes and Nesting Behaviour incorporate minimal folky soundscapes and Copper Mines has a slacker-90’s vibe. The varied ideas that they borrow are all held into unity by the by the one unwavering element that truly defines their sound, the unrivalled vocal talents of singer Kristine Leschper.
Kristine’s voice bares comparison with others, but in her self-taught vocal style there are inflections that are entirely her own. At times her voice wavers under seemingly little stress, as if straining not to reach a high note but as an expressive, artistic decision. It’s a voice that swoops and soars, sometimes fragile and capable of carrying great emotion, a little reminiscent of Angel Olsen, whilst at other moments, she carries not sadness but anger; she almost yells the line, “I was crushed by the weight of my own ego, but never honest enough to say it”, as if raging against her own past mistakes. It’s an almost clichéd comment but there are moments when her voice becomes an instrument in its own right, the wordless, almost operatic tones she adopts at the breakdown in Nesting Behavior, are chillingly beautiful.
As the title, When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired, implies, this is a record that charts Kristine’s journey, it’s a record that explores how we become the people we are, and how those formative experiences shape not just how we interact with others but crucially how we are able to interact with ourselves. She’s a skilled writer, taking big universal themes but filtering through them her own, sometimes difficult, and always personal experiences. It is at times a very dark record; with a less skilled writer it could be heavy and inaccessible. It Hurts Until It Doesn’t, arguably the albums most accessible musical moment built on a wonderful driving bass line and powerful crashing drum beat, charts Kristine’s struggles to let herself be happy, “I felt your love for a little while, but never had the guts to give myself up”, one of her regular meditations on what it is to be in a relationship when still discovering your own place in the world, a self-deprecating streak appears later as she notes, “I don’t like myself when I’m awake”.
Elsewhere a number of the tracks here seem to hint at a toxic, even mentally abusive, relationship, and in particular its slow painful demise. Blood-Letting touches on the hopelessness of that feeling of being trapped with another as Kristine notes, “no use now in trying to change our old way”. Lockjaw hints at the feeling of helplessness that comes from feeling you can’t control your own life, and the seemingly unbreakable cyclical nature of an inescapable broken relationship, Kristine sings “you love me mostly when I’m leaving, I was half gone when you met me.” before a stunningly aggressive musical breakdown ends with her coming to the crushing conclusion, “I cut out my tongue, since yours would do the talking for the both of us.”
Nesting Behavior seems to step even further back into Kristine’s past, as she sings, “when I was a child I sold my name from a small price” and hints at a father-figure who, “always made it easy, reminding me not to bloom”. There’s a clear pain here, that is still in the process of being resolved, there’s only ever the merest hint of resolution, that comes from what sounds almost like a throwaway line in closing track, Hold Your Own Hand, as she sings “I think I could learn to love”, it’s the one moment where you feel that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
The stand out moment on the album remains the first Mothers track we ever heard, the beguiling and beautiful Too Small For Eyes. Musically it’s stunning, building from a lone mandolin, it’s a track that pulses and swells, swathes of instruments flittering into view then disappearing back into the void. Kristine’s voice throughout is unbearably sad, sounding almost crushed by the emotive weight around her. It’s lyrically harrowing, exploring how crushing being in love can become, the effects are presented here for the world to see, “became something loaded with doubt, bullied by love, too small for eyes”. Elsewhere she recalls how, “we lived unloved in unmade beds, you wore me like a necklace, you closed me like locket”, exploring how trapped and squashed we can become. It ends as a wave of cellos wash across her vocal, she appears to run out of words to express her emotion, only able to simply hum a heart-broken melody.
What’s most exciting about Mothers is that When You Walk A Long Way You Are Tired seems like it’s merely the beginning, their introduction to the world, their live show is already peppered with new material, and they sound like a band who won’t rest on their laurels. Their first move is so utterly thrilling you just can’t wait to see where their next one takes them; they’ve created a truly remarkable debut, one of the best this decade, even this century. Soak it in, let it wash it’s magic over you, these records come just a handful of times in your lifetime, just listen to this record and be glad you live in a world where Mothers are just starting to share their music with us all.
When You Walk A Long Way You Are Tired is out now via Wichita Recordings. Click HERE for all upcoming Mothers dates.