Motherhood - Winded (Forward Music Group) 2

Motherhood – Winded (Forward Music Group)

Winded, the second album from New Brunswick, Canada trio Motherhood takes their avant rock to a whole new level of discomforting genius.

For those that need an introduction to Motherhood, let’s get the comparisons out of the way first.

Imagine you’re standing dead centre at a multi-staged open air festival while Brian Wilson, Pixies, Ty Segall and Meat Puppets (why not?) are all playing their respective sets. Depending on the wind direction you catch snatches of riffs and harmonies from each. While we are at it, let’s throw in some carnival noise (maybe a radio blaring out some Marty Robbins classics, as someone hits the target on the dunk tank). If that sounds like a disorienting mess, know that Motherhood are directing the wind with skill and precision, blowing gently in your ear before knocking you to the ground. As for Winded, with its plot twists, frenzied peaks and crashing lows, it’s like a night out with an edgy and unpredictable friend. It’s the itch inside your head that won’t go away, no matter how much you scratch and claw at it. It’s the slow realisation you’ve been walking in circles for hours and are utterly lost.

Drawing on his own history, Brydon Crain (singer, guitars) uses vivid ‘hillbilly’ terms, folklore and vernacular to depict the hardships of those with limited options and opportunities. He spits and coughs his off-kilter words as much as he sings them. When he does sing, Penelope Stevens (bass, keys & vocals) lightens the burden with surprisingly gooey harmonies and shouted interjections. Drummer Adam Sipkema’s sense of timing and flow squeezes the last drop of spontaneity out of each track, ripping through at an elite athlete’s pace one minute, calling a dead stop, sticks aloft, then diving into a goofy waltz-like rhythm the next. Motherhood have been playing together since high school and it shows, yet Winded  is much more than the accumulation of all that experience, and it’s certainly a step-change from 2019’s brilliant Dear Bongo.

Having seen them play live (experiencing their distinct style of controlled chaos) it’s great to hear Winded capturing that on record. Openers ‘Crawly 1’ and ‘Crawly 2’  show off the gripping, almost obsessive exuberance that makes Motherhood really hard to ignore. “There was a tight-rope tied over a deep hole /Dutifully moving in time suited me fine/ Same as the breeze blows/Same as the tune in my mind”, Crain hee-haws over a frantic riff. It seems that if the music doesn’t shake your limbs, the words will stir your brain. On ‘Shepherd’, sunshine surf rock harmonies serve as a bizarre distraction to Crain’s wordplay: “And I’m hurling through the rocks until my yearning or the clock stops working/Because the path’s not crooked but it certainly is steep”.  It’s inspired by Murakami and also written with Pynchon‘s Inherent Vice in mind, transforming metaphorical sheep-induced paranoia into the most curious set of lyrics on the album.

Pivotal track, ‘Table Top’ , is an absolute belter and sees the band taking a new ‘less is more’ approach when it comes to making an impact. Chord shifts and counterpoint harmonies do the heavy lifting, while a hornet rattling single chord riff injects a sting where needed. A delirious, feverish stumble through a mind that is closing in on itself, ‘Table Top’  attempts to hold back its own inevitable breakdown: “If the cracks don’t move/Then the leaks won’t too”.

“I won’t float, baby / Don’t make me beg”  Crain pleads on ‘Flood’, whose heady, languorous verses drag the protagonist’s dead weight towards an unseen fate, before a skipping double-time punk beat chips in to the rescue. ‘Ripped Sheet’  follows, a tale of hitting rock bottom and the long tightrope walk back to something like normality. A blustering Bad Brains-like jostle at first, the song slows into a growling, feedback-hungry post-punk beast.

By stark contrast, ‘Handbrake’ coos with synth flutes while Stevens and Crain share lead vocal in an almost joyful dual account of hedonistic, nihilistic abandon: “All hail the tall tales and lies that I told/All hail and ice as I fly down the road/ And my tires lose control/And I won’t make the turn/All smiles from me though/I dreamed of the curve”. Chunky power riffs cut in momentarily showering shards of doom metal into the air. But as the track fades, what lands sounds more like spooky idents from a 70s sci-fi horror movie. ‘Shuttered Down’  breaks the intensity with its scurrying hats and sluggish kick drum over a pulsing drone. Crain’s downbeat melody dances with Stevens’s echoing harmony cascade, sounding like Beach Boys covering Thom Yorke. Album closer, ‘Trees’  takes a long look in the mirror. Its hesitant chapel organ waltz is punctuated words of realisation: “Most of these rocks on the beach won’t get close to this cold/ Ode to your shook, drowsy soul/ You look one thousand years old”, rounding off Winded with sobering melancholy, as its protagonist wanders the wrecked shoreline, searching for some semblance of meaning.

Whether or not we find anything personally significant in these songs, Motherhood’s honest delivery is compelling and illustrates what Winded represents for them: “persevering—perhaps for no good reason.” After a decade together, many bands lose their way through the highs and lows, but not Motherhood it seems. They just keep walking in a straight line through the hurricane.  As Murakami put it:  “This storm is you. Something inside you. So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn’t get in, and walk through it, step by step.” (Kafka On The Shore)

‘Winded’ is released on 24th June, via Forward Music Group

Main photo: Vanessa Heins


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