There’s a school of thought, conscious or otherwise, that assumes the sad songs are the slow, quiet ones. The ones where emotions are delivered with intimacy and an almost clichéd fragility. Certainly that can be the case, Mothers themselves showed us that on the stunning Too Small For Eyes from 2016’s When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired, yet does it have to be? Listening to Render Another Ugly Method, Mothers’ second record, the pain, anger and anguish remains as poignant as ever, yet it’s delivered with both a complexity and an excellent dose of noise.
It’s there in opening track, Beauty Routine, like a number of tracks on the record, it seems to deal with the difficult relationship between our physical and emotional characteristics, concluding in the bruising final line, “brush my teeth as an act of desperation, show me a beauty routine, to erase me completely”. While the track isn’t one of the record’s louder moments, it is none-the-less dense and complex; with wavering pulses of guitar, twitching drum beats and sudden bursts of brutal, beautiful noise, that rapidly fall in and out of place. The contrast between the intimacy of the lyricism and the complexity of the music, has always been a part of Mothers’ sound, however here it seems to be laid out even more starkly. An already angular prospect, Mothers haven’t only refused to smooth their edges out, they’ve sharpened them into wonderfully uncompromising points.
Listening to Render Another Ugly Method isn’t, by any account, an easy task. The shifts in tempo and tone are arresting, at times on first or second listen, you can feel like you’re on an hour-long roller-coaster ride, lurching and bruising as you hurtle round the rapid pace of Pink, and then reach an arresting stop on the minimal and unnerving, “It Is A Pleasure To Be Here”. Yet on repeat listens, the corners that once caught you off guard, all begin to make sense. It isn’t an easy record to listen to, because not a single thought has gone into making it one. Working with producer John Congleton, known for his work with War On Drugs and Angel Olsen among others, Render Another Ugly Method is a record that finds songwriter Kristine Leschper, taking a deep look at herself, and questioning almost everything about what she sees. It is the sound of someone taking a step back and questioning why she feels the need to validate herself through her work, of discovering that there’s a toxicity to expecting your art to justify your own existence.
Blame Kit, the album’s first single, is a fine example of where Kristine finds herself as a songwriter, as she explains the titular Blame Kit is, “exactly what it sounds like – an apparatus or social mechanism that aims to shift or imply guilt onto a particular person, group, or idea”. The track once again takes the body as its inspiration, here musing on its ability to swell and absorb whatever abuse you throw at it, as Kristine explains the track was, “inspired by a passage I discovered in a book of case studies of schizophrenic and autistic children: ‘His body will at one moment expand to contain things and events that are outside of it, and at the next shrink to near-nothingness…Uncertain of the boundaries of his body, things on the outside become terribly important.’ I couldn’t stop thinking about that”. Cleverly that swell and collapse is matched in the musical accompaniment. It is a track with two distinct sections, with differences in both mood and tempo, the opening assault of jarring guitar, layered vocals and crushing snare hits, suddenly collapsing to something sweet, melodic, and contrastingly pretty against the unnerving lyrical accompaniment.
Elsewhere on the record, there are tracks that initially seem to almost blend into the album’s whole, yet slowly reveal their own character and intrigue. Baptist Trauma has a touch of Torres, with its giant stabs of distorted vocals and clattering industrial percussion, Circle Once fuses classically maths-rock stop-start rhythms with moments of ethereal calm and other than being seven-minutes long and a musing on the passage of time set through a triptych of car journeys from youth, the recent past and the present, Pink could almost be a pop song.
Perhaps the album’s strongest moment comes towards the end, with the contrasting double bill of Mother And Wife and Wealth Centre / Risk Capital. The former seems to almost shift its impact on every listen; at times it feels deeply personal, the way the details are almost blurred out leaving just a feeling of unease, yet equally it could be a musing on the universal expectation of women to embrace motherhood and marriage, even if they’re not entirely sure if that’s what they want from life. Musically too, it seems to play off different roles, there’s a sparseness to it with little instrumentation beyond voice and a slow-moving repeated guitar pattern, yet throughout the frets buzz, weird electronics twinkle in the distance, the voice lightly distorts even in the quietest of moments, giving it an engulfing dense quality. Wealth Centre / Risk Capital, starts life with pounding, jazzy drum hits and fuzzy, dense vocals, the actual words almost impenetrable, then suddenly takes an abrupt turn into spoken-word and ringing, guitar notes, before shifting back to where it began. The use of spoken-word is a master-stroke, such is the contrast to Kristine’s usual soaring vocals, it gives the whole thing a mechanical uneasy feeling, as she repeats, “I am excited by the prospect of living without a body, I am ungrateful and this proves it”. Again, it returns to the theme of the body, and wanting to escape the role it is expected to play, it takes the idea of negative body image to a disturbing, and yet quite calculated conclusion.
It is not a record without fault, we’re not sure what exactly Fat Chance adds other than six minutes onto an already lengthy run-time, yet Render Another Ugly Method is arguably a record that doesn’t suit perfection, it is, after all, a record about imperfections, about fragilities and about how those very things make us human. Complex and daring, it is a bold statement, it baffles and beguiles in equal measure, an already fascinating record that we’re just getting to know, and one that we can’t help but feel that might just keep giving with each repeat listen.
Render Another Ugly Method is out now via Anti- Records. Click HERE for more information on Mothers.