The genre mash-up debut Touch Up opens with a deceivingly simple guitar strumming, followed by a couple bangs on a cowbell, but soon turns to the band's signature three-part harmonies. Without any warning other than a subtle quickening in tempo and a little added percussion, "Dirty Town" turns into a punk-tinged pulsing cacophony. As soon as it seems that's where the song will stay it shifts into a whimsical country mode. Then right back it goes to the punk until the two fuse together to close the song out. This is the way the majority of the songs on the album work. Just when you think the entire track will be a light and sweet bluegrassy tune, it suddenly goes into a forceful plunge of three-part in-your-face chorus chants.
Mother Mother's foundation rests with its three vocalists, Ryan Guldemond (also the guitarist), his sister Molly, and Debra-Jean Creelman, whose most apt comparison might be the vocal styling of the 1990s band Frenté. In other moments Ryan seems to be taking after the preciousness of freak folk leader Devandra Banhart. The tightly constructed bass and drums by Jeremy Page and Kenton Loewen that back these intricate constantly shifting harmonies prove to hold this band together.
The most compelling aspect of Mother Mother's music is that the genre-shifting takes place within each song, not from song to song. Moments of cabaret are juxtaposed with moments of country. Folk balladry cozies up next to poppy punk.
Endless shifts in keys, time signatures, and vocal delivery mean there's not a boring second here. The majority of the songs are short and snappy with the longest, "Neighbor," clocking in at four minutes and 39 seconds. This was the song that led me to seek out their entire album. Like many of the songs, it starts out with a simple acoustic guitar strumming soon followed by a driving uptempo charge of bass and drums that then drop back to the acoustic guitar coupled with sing-songy three-part vocals, that drop back into the bass and drums. Not until 30 seconds in does the essence of the verse chorus structure come in with a folkie delivery from Ryan. The rest of the song proceeds to seamlessly shift between these elements to form an addictive pop masterpiece.
At times the lyrics seem too cutesy (or perhaps they are just going for twee) as in "Ball Cap," with lines like: "I wear my ballcap to hide my big eyes / you wear your black dress to hide your big thighs." But the lyrics aren't that important, as much of the time is spent repeating words again and again and doing lots of bops, dooowhaaaas, etc. in a sort of indie rock frantic skat.
This Vancouver-based band has already garnered much attention in Canada and with the U.S. release of Touch Up this quintet should gain a sizeable following here, even if only for their pure inventiveness. There's much more at play here though, and anyone who ventures in with open ears should be delighted with the playfully eclectic ecstatic sounds.