To use a phrase that we’ll all be thoroughly tired of once again by the time this summer is over, this is a record “of two halves”. Originally released in the US and their native Canada two years ago, Mother Mother’s second album O My Heart arguably showcases two distinct faces of the band’s musical and especially lyrical personality. The lesser of these faces, displayed on about half the album’s tracks, would, if taken alone, portray the band as just another pleasant, but uninspiring and ultimately forgettable, populist rock band. The superior cache of songs, however, is a much more distinctive set, one which marks Mother Mother out as an exciting and innovative group with a singular knack for conveying dark and clever ideas through the medium of frequently thrilling songs.
Although tempered a little by the rather benign title, O My Heart has an album cover which hints at the dark and sometimes vaguely sinister material the record contains. It is whilst writing this material that Mother Mother hit on all of their good lyrics, and as it happens the best music is contained on these tracks, too. Indeed, the band sound as if they knew they were on to a good thing with these tracks, whereas the lesser tracks end up sounding too ordinary, too made-to-order, like a hollow top-up to turn what could have been a superb EP into a full-length of frustratingly mixed quality. Take ‘Miles’, for example; a mid-tempo semi-acoustic number with lazily woozing electric guitar for texture, meditating on the shallowest and most clichéd of sentiments – “we’re gonna make it”, repeated as a decidedly unoriginal mantra.
Something like ‘Hayloft’, though, near-obliterates the memory of such a song. Described quite accurately by Mother Mother’s frontman Ryan Guldemont as “your average take of barn sex gone terribly awry”, it paints a familiar image enriched with a thumping back beat and great gang vocals – “my daddy’s got a gun, you bet-ta run!” It’s enormous fun, the foremost example of Mother Mother’s supremely entertaining efforts to write upbeat tunes about dark subjects. With its pastoral sex n’ violence story “Hayloft” exists at the most tame end of the spectrum inhabited by this kind of song, but further up the line struts “Body of Years”, which occasionally appears to be written from the perspective of a murderer, as Guldemont sings of making a “mark on the world / with a bag and a blade”.
A little later on there’s ‘Body’, which pierces the gaps between its drum beats with stabbing strings. Lyrically, it’s a plea for deliverance from earthly weariness through the sweet release of graphic dismemberment. Can it still be tongue-in-cheek when the lyrics ask for the singer’s tongue to be taken from him? The last great track before the numbing concluding couplet of ‘Miles’ and obligatory long closing track ‘Sleep Awake’ (on which lead vocals are performed by Molly Guldemont) is ‘Arms Tonite’. Another daft and fun pop comment on death, it’s sung from the perspective of a deceased lover expecting their surviving partner to be impressed by their romantic death – “don’t you think it’s kinda cute / that I died right inside your arms tonight?”
The strong tracks on O My Heart are so marvellously bleak yet bouncy that they happily drown the more forgettable songs and in sum, make this an album that is enormously enjoyable in its good parts, if a little frustrating in its failure to stretch these strengths out to full album length. However, there is an advantage to having to wait for this very late UK release – word has it that we can expect a new Mother Mother record later this year, meaning we won’t have to wait long to hear Mother Mother’s next chance to impress with a more consistently thrilling grim-rock triumph.