Mourn condense the essence of Sleater-Kinney and PJ Harvey into an impressive bite-size debut.
Much attention is being paid to Spanish punk band Mourn and their smart self-titled debut, but some of that attention seems misplaced. With an average age of just over 17, the members of Mourn are just on the cusp of real-life experience, which makes their stellar debut all the more fascinating and impressive. At the same time, perhaps the focus on their young age is a little misguided given their genre of choice and its long history of powerful statements from angst-ridden youth. Ian MacKaye, for instance, began seminal hardcore band Minor Threat at the incredible age of 18. Of course, MacKaye’s most innovative and exciting music came with Fugazi, 10-20 years later, but Minor Threat was pioneering in its time as well, finding power in raw energy and songwriting. In a way, this means the best thing a punk record can show is the room for growth and maturation, the space to develop and evolve beyond barriers and established limits. On that metric, Mourn have succeeded brilliantly with their first record.
Comparisons to the fiery, guitar-led punk of early Sleater-Kinney and the smokey, poetic energy of PJ Harvey are givens, but Mourn’s closest stylistic analogue may be those unforgettable late-’80s debuts by soon-to-be grunge legends, records like Nirvana’s Bleach and Mudhoney’s Superfuzz Bigmuff. Mourn, like those albums, is charmingly raw, punishing and naive, but surprisingly well-structured and nuanced. It’s a debut filled with promise, delivered by musicians who have already learned the immense value of brevity, tight song construction and a good punk hook. With a stirring and original double vocal attack, a thundering rhythm section and beautifully raw guitars, Mourn stage one of the more refined re-creations of early ‘90s alt-rock in recent memory. Ideas like the intricate, unusual vocal patterns of “Philliphius”, the off-kilter guitar rhythms of “Misery Factory”, and the shouted hook of “Marshall” belong to musicians of greater experience, artists who have had the opportunity to experiment and exhaustively explore their strengths and weaknesses as songwriters, but here, on the band’s first record, they feel all the more vital and explosive.
Opening track “Your Brain is Made of Candy” is imbued with as much playful gloominess as the title suggests while also providing the best example of the band’s dynamic ability, starting with just a soft croon and the fragile strum of a single guitar before leading gracefully into a prickly, driving punk beat, effectively setting the stage for the rest of the album. This leads into the Nirvana-esque “Dark Issues”, then “Philliphius”, which evokes classic female-led post-punk from the likes of Au Pairs and Bush Tetras. “Otitis” is one of the album’s tightest pieces, its jittery verses careening into heavy choruses, then eventually a simple guitar solo. As Wire and Minutemen before them showed, punk music is never more powerful than when its packed into an actual, fully constructed song and then cut off before overstaying its welcome.
Mourn comes in at just over 20 minutes, making it a blisteringly succinct mission statement, but a no less compelling one. It’s a surprising debut album that delivers on what many first records don’t: consistency and organization. The band manages to stand apart with unconventional vocals and a gritty guitar sound, separating them from slews of incoming ‘90s nostalgia acts more reverent than inventive. Mourn aren’t quite visionaries yet, but if their debut proves anything, it’s that they have the capacity to create novel punk rock, as much of an oxymoron as that may seem now.