[26 March 2009]
D. Rider’s Mother of Curses starts off with the sound of a marker writing on cardboard, quickly followed by jittery bursts of guitar and individual tambourine hits. A voice speaks the title of the first song, “Arranged Marriage to No Toms”, the drums come in with a simple beat, the background distortion noise amps up and a fuzzed-out bass sneaks in, too, creating an intriguing combination of sounds, at least until Todd Rittmann (listed in the liner notes as “Deathrider”) starts “singing” about a minute into the song. His vocals sit astride a blurry line somewhere between chanting and out-of-tune singing, and it instantly makes the messy background music grating instead of intriguing. A saxophone shows up a little past the halfway point of the song, making random sound effects as much as it plays notes. And then the song ends. But instead of ending when the music stops, distorted sounds drone on for another full minute.
D. Rider remains this way for the whole album. The songs grade as rather abstract and often without melodies or even recurring riffs or hooks. Even so, the trio creates some interesting ideas instrumentally. Rittmann handles the bulk of the sound creation, it seems, as he receives credit as the “drummer, voice, strings”, which includes guitars and bass. Because Andrea Fraught plays “oscillatrix, cornet, voice” while Noah Tabakin is the “reedist, voice”. The oscillatrix, an old synthesizer, makes really annoying oscillating electronic sounds. (Click the link for examples.) Anyway, usually when the band creates something interesting sonically, it becomes obliterated when Rittmann’s vocals start. With the music already balancing on a knife edge between compelling and bothersome, the vocals continually push D. Rider’s songs to the wrong side of that edge.
Lyrically, it’s not much better. While not precisely random, it often challenges to decipher what Rittmann goes on about. An exception, “Body to Body (to Body)”, tells a mostly coherent story about a horse race. “Touchy” contains an assortment of lyrics like, “I can be a cowboy when you touch it / You can be a princess when you touch it / I am a policeman when you touch it / You’re a ballerina when you touch it.” This actually turns out to be one of the more tolerable songs on the album. The music almost finds a groove between the bass and drums before backing off into more distortion and drum fills. The lyrics, chanted in a pair of low voices, sound almost like the song could’ve worked if done by, say, Mike Patton. The song then actually does find a groove in its last 45 seconds, maybe providing a glimpse at what could’ve been.
“Welcome Out” may be about a black ops agent being released into the world after years of work undercover. More intriguingly, it’s the one time on the album where Rittman’s vocals almost work. A loose, slow acoustic-guitar riff (sounding like an instrument with at least one broken string) accompanies the vocals effectively. And Faught and Tabakin play cornet and baritone saxophone, respectively, coming in a little more than a minute into the song and play an array of separate notes. But at 1:52, they coalesce into a harmonized horn duet—easily the most melodic moment on the album.
Beyond “Welcome Out”, though, not much on Mother of Curses can be grabbed on to. D. Rider is so willfully abstract musically and aggravating vocally that it’s a tough album to appreciate and even tougher to actively like. The band seems to be doing its damndest to be off-putting, and if they are, they succeed. Otherwise, though, just what D. Rider attempts to accomplish remains a mystery. Whatever the band’s intent, though, Mother of Curses simply doesn’t work.