A word of warning: if you’re hitting play on the new Mothers album for some easy listening, or for some comfort, or for some sort of warm melancholia that you can wrap yourself up in, then you’ll find yourself not necessarily let down, but definitely not fulfilled.
Not in that way, anyway. Render Another Ugly Method won’t deliver any of these things. And while that may sound a little dramatic, as the album unfurls, it’s at times hard to believe that this is the same band that gave us the wistful, vulnerable, at times delicate and cathartic, both heart-breaking and heart-mending debut When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired a few years ago.
Instead of the comforting ebb and flow in which When You Walk… existed, their follow-up has been built on myriads of tiny start-and-stop/fast-and-slow moments, something that feels calculated, almost rigid when compared to their debut, which felt beautifully organic and gentle. But just like their debut, things are once again totally captivating, though not in a daze-y, dream-like way; rather because this album demands your attention through the sheer scale, sprawl and scope of it.
One moment you’re suspended in animation with “eyes unmoving”, where the disjointed and divergent have been skilfully reeled in and woven together into expansive mini-compositions. The next you’re caught up in sharp, angular snare hits and spindly guitars, sometimes delivered as a barrage, sometimes as a cascade. Remarkably – more often than not – this all happens within the same track. It’s a somewhat dizzying, often challenging dynamic that the band, and songwriter Kristine Leschper, was already flirting with on their debut, and it’s now become a full-blown love affair.
The two-pronged sound forms a dark, unsettling, menacing undertow on the album that grabs at your ankles as you wade through it, a feeling that Lepscher magnifies through her spectre-like, haunting vocals. Where in When You Walk… she was evocatively expressive, her voice pained, tender and raw, here she rarely deviates from an almost monotone, trance-like mode, as if she’s caught up in the deepest, most powerful of invocations, emotions suppressed for the time being. It adds an intriguing extra gravity to everything Lepscher says – as cryptic as it all may be – and with thoughts of wanting to be “erase[d] completely”, to “forget [her] body”, and the eerie confession of being “excited by the prospect of living without a body”, the already disquieting stream that runs through the album is amplified tenfold.
Songwriting craft. Musicianship. Vision. Ambition. Singularity. It’s all on display here, unmistakably, impressively. But mostly, Render Another Ugly Method serves up a palpable sense of something ominous and haunting. Yet, instead of doing the natural thing and run away from it, you let it engulf you, like some sort of opaque mist that’s rolled down from a mysterious plain that you’ve always wanted to explore but never quite had the courage to. It’s the unknown, and the unknown isn’t for everyone. It’s scary and unnerving. But it can also be intriguing and exhilarating.