The intricacies of the heart have been endlessly pondered in pop music, but the joy of hearing a new articulation of love and its impact on the psyche is one that will never tire.
The title of Mothers debut When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired may sound matter-of-fact but like its songs it’s in fact anything but prosaic. Over the course of eight songs Mothers explore the impact of emotional journeys and the physical and mental toil that they can wreak.
The record is built around the songs singer Kristine Leschper wrote alone as she was finishing art school, the beguiling opener “Too Small For Eyes” gives a clue to what they sounded like before she was joined by her bandmates. Featuring her tender yet fraught vocal and a simple mandolin it’s augmented by strings and stabbed piano which elevate it into an even lusher space. It’s hushed, meditative and very beautiful.
But the other members of Mothers play just as an important role and second song “It Hurts Until it Doesn’t” shows their musical dextrousness and inventiveness. Starting out with a propulsive rhythm and angular guitar notes, it slows down halfway through to just an electric guitar strum and when the band come back in it speeds up and transforms into almost an entirely different song, but the playing and melody seam it together.
Musically the initial reference point that comes to mind is Angel Olsen but there are also traces of Throwing Muses, especially in the staccato guitars and the controlled intensity of Leschper’s singing, however their musical voice is distinctly their own. Yet for all the wondrousness of the music, which can move from a sparse lullaby like “Nesting Behavior” to the epic bliss-out of closer “Hold Your Own Hand” it’s the lyrics that really set their songs apart.
Leschper has a voice that sounds infinitely sad but doesn’t fall into moroseness and it’s not always the sound of someone who’s been defeated by love. A line in “Burden of Proof” “I wouldn’t have believed you anyway” echoes Sylvia Plath’s “If you expect nothing from somebody you are never disappointed” from The Bell Jar. But there’s a heart-breaking sadness too in a line such as “I don’t like myself when I’m awake” from “It Hurts Until It Doesn't” which captures the somnambulant, dreamlike feel of the songs and the album title.
Given its weighty themes When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired could have been a gruelling listen, but the intelligence of the songwriting and Leschper’s almost observational detachment give the songs a universality that’s astonishingly good. It’s a record as much about falling apart as it is putting yourself back together and undoubtedly one of the debuts of the year so far.