Thursday, May 5, 2011

Mother Mother and Brasstronaut brandish originality at the Vogue

I'll begin with a bold statement: Mother Mother and Brasstronaut are two of the most original bands in the history of Canadian music. Brasstronaut, the surprise opening act for Mother Mother at the Vogue tonight and a staple of Vancouver's indie music scene, is an ever-changing collective of jazz and rock musicians centred around pianist/vocalist Edo Van Breemen and trumpet player Bryan Davies. Tonight was my fourth time watching Brasstronaut perform, and they never fail to impress. When musicians reach the peak of their musical ability and instrumental skill, often one of two things will happen: either they become a studio musician, recording with other bands, or they form some sort of collective or supergroup with other similarly skilled musicians. This fosters a whole new level of musical creativity (or chaos?), well beyond what your average pop, rock, or even jazz band are capable of. It's how new genres are born. I feel like I've still fallen short of describing Brasstronaut to you, so here, just check them out.

Brasstronaut - Slow Knots (YSI)

Mother Mother takes a slightly different approach with their originality. Instead of an eclectic smattering of genres and experiments, they begin as a rock band, twisting their sound in every possible direction. They have three vocalists, brother-sister duo Ryan and Molly Guldemond and newcomer Jasmin Parkin. The ladies sound nothing alike—Jasmin's voice is strong and powerful, while Molly's is soft and graceful—but they both harmonise stunningly with Ryan's strikingly dynamic voice. Ryan's voice, even while speaking, has an interesting sound, almost like he has some unique accent that no one can pinpoint, because when you listen for it, you don't hear an accent.

It's not just the vocals in the band that are diverse. The band composes their music in an entirely different fashion than your average rock band. You know how music has rules, like which notes and chords belong in a song, based on what key the song is in? Yeah, throw that out. In some songs they'll seamlessly jump from one key to another between verses and choruses, and then back again. Then, as if by magic, in the next song they'll throw out all the rules entirely and play progressions of chords that aren't even progressions, in the sense of "repeat these three chords for the whole song", and out-of-key chords that just happen to all work together. You know how rock, pop, hip-hop and basically anything popular has a fairly predictable verse-chorus-bridge structure? Yeah, throw that out, too. The band has choruses in most songs, but every song is a ride of unpredictable madness, yet somehow it's all cohesive—that's the key point. Mother Mother takes all these idiosyncrasies and makes music that sounds like nothing we've heard before, yet is so fantastic that everyone shows them love, including mainstream radio DJs, indie music bloggers/hipsters/snobs, and the hundreds of teenage girls that were at the (all-ages) show tonight.

After a description like that, it's a given that Mother Mother has fantastic production on their albums, surprisingly helmed by lead singer/guitarist Ryan Guldemond. It takes extraordinary skill to translate songs seamlessly from studio to stage without rearranging and changing the feel of the songs, especially when, like Mother Mother, they're infinitely more complex than your average rock band. Ryan and his band made every song sound "live" tonight, not trying too hard to replicate the sound of their records, but not straying too far from what was already a perfect formula. It took me a few songs to get over the fact that they didn't have the physical energy that I usually expect from a good rock band, but they're just not that type of band. There's really no need for dance routines and witty banter when you're a musician who is simply driven by music.

This was my first time seeing Mother Mother, and I've been waiting a long time. Having lived in Vancouver almost 2 years now, I finally got my first chance to see the band I've been listening to since long before I moved to their hometown. They played nearly all my favourite songs (I have a long list) from their three albums, and loads more, totaling a long setlist of well over 20 songs. One of the highest points was in the second half of the set, when they played their new single “The Stand”, followed by “Body of Years”, a hit from their previous album. I read once, from Ryan Guldemond, that the latter was inspired by the Pixies' “Gouge Away”. So, in an interesting turn of planning and coincidence, the band followed “Body of Years” with a cover of “Gouge Away”, which was all the more fitting since the Pixies themselves were actually performing down the street at The Commodore, at the very same moment tonight!

So, that was a fairly technical review, but in my defense, music that is not only complex, but also catchy and sounds fantastic, is fun to pick apart. If you got through my whole review, then either you're not a technical person when it comes to music and I explained things well, and you'll start noticing things that never caught your attention before, when you listen to Mother Mother... or, you are technical with music and I held your interest right up to the conclusion of how mindblowing fantastic Mother Mother is. Check out their new album Eureka (and their other two albums!) Here's the video for “The Stand”, the lead single off the new album, and an mp3 of “O My Heart”, which was featured here in Vancouver at the fireworks and laser light shows during the Olympics, and is the title track off their last album.

Mother Mother - O My Heart (YSI)


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