“It’s like paradise/spread out with a butter knife!” So outer space is described in a memorable line from “The Stand”, the first single from Vancouver rock band Mother Mother’s third LP. If the song has a function on Eureka besides providing infectious fun, it’s to demonstrate how the band’s familiar strengths and new experiments co-exist in their new work. On the one hand, the song’s sickly sweet group vocals and idiosyncratic lyrics are much like those that made 2008’s O My Heart so engaging; on the other, the naked hip-hop influence of this “silly rap style thing” betray the group’s willingness to strike out ambitiously in new and less-than-obvious directions.
The brightly-colored roaring lion on the new album’s cover, in addition to a title that almost demands to be shouted rather than spoken, hint at a rich vein of musical and lyrical positivity which the songs deliver in spades. O My Heart was always clever and frequently funny, but its songs more often than not dealt with surprisingly dark subjects, from graphic dismemberment and “barn sex gone terribly awry” to ghostly hauntings and serial murder.
On Eureka, the focus has changed. Now, Mother Mother are concerned with more down-to-Earth “Problems”, albeit “not just ones that are little”. These issues include trying to pin down one’s sense of self in a fast-moving world (“Chasing it Down”), having a girlfriend who is reluctant to let herself go (“Baby Don’t Dance”) and encouraging people to live less solitary lives (“Far in Time”). Only penultimate track “Oleander”, named after the common but highly toxic plant, struggles against the darkness in the way the songs on O My Heart usually did — “I’ll be obscene, I’ll be unclean” Molly Guldemond sings sweetly, “you’ll be the rest”.
That Mother Mother navigate this new territory as successfully as they do is a result of how strong a unit they remain. So consistent has Ryan Guldemond’s writing been so far that he looks to be on his way to becoming one of the finest pop scribes Canada has to offer, which on the evidence of recent years is an achievement indeed. His seamless vocal collaborations with sister Molly and recently added singer/keyboardist Jasmin Parkin frequently seem to be the bedrock on which the thrilling keys and guitars stand, as opposed to the other way around; Jeremy Page and Ali Siadat remain not only solid but inventive on bass and drums respectively.
Some fans may miss the country music-inspired elements from previous Mother Mother efforts, but the band have more than enough instrumental surprises to fill the gap. Like many bands, the family Guldemond and company have introduced more electronic sounds in recent years, and Parkin’s addition to the band naturally makes keys a larger contribution than previously. The keyboard sound on opener ‘”Chasing it Down” even sounds very much like mid-70s Emerson, Lake & Palmer, of all things. It is just the first of many exciting instrumental breakdowns Eureka has to offer, Just when newcomers might be lulled into thinking that rocking out is all the band can do, the sweet and sunny ode to escapism that is “Getaway” ups their expectations once more.
On “Aspiring Fires” the band impart “a little advice”, and tell the listener that “aspiring fires get put out if you don’t get a little wild”. The way they have developed so aggressively since their formation in January 2005 is ample evidence that Mother Mother’s aspiring fires are burning brightly. Their wildness, humor and irrepressible sense of fun are as contagious now as ever, and Eureka is the best vector they have created so far. A document of an enormously talented band capitalizing on past strengths and learning new ones at an alarming rate, this is a terrific populist rock record and sets a high standard for North American ventures in that field in 2011.