Mother Mother has always reveled in contradiction.
“It’s the person, the humanoid…that’s the very good bad thing.”
For Ryan Guldemond, there is no denying the human condition in all its tragic, conflicting nature.
Two years after the Juno-nominated “The Sticks,” the band’s apocalyptic 2012 album steeped in isolation and dread, the Vancouver quintet returns with its fifth studio album, “Very Good Bad Thing”: an edgy, synth-heavy, club-driven rock record filled with massive hooks.
But as is the band’s trademark, behind the gauzy boy-girl vocal harmonies, angular guitar lines and infectious rhythms lies something deeper and darker.
“I think it’s peppier and more of a party, but at the same time the torture is very apparent,” singer/keyboardist Jasmin Parkin says.
“But there’s not a lot of denial,” Guldemond says. “There’s a pride behind the confession. No one’s denying anything.”
Human “malfunctions” are cause for celebration on “Very Good Bad Thing.”
Mother Mother come out swinging on “Get Out The Way,” a super-charged call to arms Guldemond describes as not letting anyone to get in the way of your truth, whatever your truth may be. “I know I’m supposed to integrate,” he snarls, “but how’s about instead I inch away?”
“F — – yeah, I’m a deviant,” Guldemond proclaims on the proggy “Reaper Man,” which pounds its way through your cerebellum like the giant walking hammers from Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.”
No subject is taboo for Mother Mother on “Very Good Bad Thing”: male body image (“I Go Hungry”), morning-after self-loathing (“Have It Out”), bullying and suicide (“Kept Down,” inspired in part by the death of Amanda Todd).
“Am I to die alone and sublime?” Guldemond asks before ending the album as if it had all been an illusion — with a vanishing trick. “You may just watch me disappear,” he sings against the silence.
“As I get older I feel more in touch with my flaws as something I can integrate, as opposed to something I suppress in order to spin some yarn of perfection,” Guldemond says. “Never have I been so at peace with the imperfect side of myself.”
Recorded with Juno-winning producer Gavin Brown (Metric, Billy Talent, Tragically Hip) at his Noble Street studio in Toronto, “Very Good Bad Thing” is the next logical step in Mother Mother’s sonic evolution.
This isn’t the same Mother Mother that gave us the cheeky “Touch Up” (2007) and “O My Heart” (2008), or even the adventurous “Eureka” (2011). It’s a much different band than on the conceptual “The Sticks” (2012), an album that made Mother Mother the second most-played artist on Canadian alternative radio in 2012 and 2013.
The guitar hooks are bigger, the synths are louder, the vocal harmonies are more carefully crafted and the irony toned down, and the bass and drums are tighter.
“I’ve been really getting into James Blake, Little Dragon and EDM in general,” Guldemond says. “As the songs were coming in, they were wearing a skin of electronics. It’s easy to demo from that place. In doing that you get attached to that personality and it begins to define the shape of the song. It just made sense to continue down that path as opposed to uprooting the core and starting from scratch.
“It feels natural. There’s a lot of fire in the band and its sentiment, and that seems accentuated through big, modern, tough sounds.”
“Very Good Bad Thing” certainly pops out of the package with a resounding snap.
For a band whose approach has been to modernize itself at every turn and has never really been able to fit neatly into a box, Brown was the right fit for the job.
“He really brought an edge to our sound,” Parkin says. “We’ve never done the same thing twice. Every album is a new chapter and a new beginning.”
Close to 10 years after it formed, Mother Mother is embracing its true nature. And it speaks volumes.
“No matter what you do you’ll be criticized for it,” Guldemond says. “So it’s better to be criticized for taking risks rather than being safe.”