- by Mark Moody Rating:10 Release Date:2018-09-07 Label: ANTI-
If you are already familiar with Kristine Leschper’s vehicle, Mothers, from 2016’s When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired, you better check your pony at the door. While that album was a progenitor to the style of Haley Heynderickx’s excellent album this year with untrained vocal swoops and at least some acoustic instrumentation, it leaves you ill-prepared for the next chapter in Leschper’s and her band’s evolution. With the prior album being a showcase for her voice and with plenty of quirky outcroppings to latch on to, the upcoming Render Another Ugly Method is a challenge on a whole other level.
Though appropriately promoted with Leschper as front person, Mothers is clearly operating as a band. What is stunning here though is that over the course of an hour, her band members, and possibly producer John Congleton, are clearly at odds with her. Beckoning her into the briar patch on the languid opening notes of ‘BEAUTY ROUTINE’, Matthew Anderegg (drums), Drew Kirby (guitar), and Chris Goggans (bass), ramp things up early and often, rarely allowing Leschper a moment to herself. She operates in a much narrower vocal range than before but is a compelling force pushing against a surface that allows barely enough air to get to the finish. Case in point, the brutal ‘BAPTIST TRAUMA’ has Anderegg pounding harder each time Leschper tries to get a word out. The dominance and brilliance of Anderegg’s drumming over the course of the album echo the improvisational lead of Jaki Liebezeit on Can’s Ege Bamyasi, which is no small feat.
Many of the tracks are a microcosm of the work as a whole. Ebbs, flows and dangerous eddies appear at unexpected moments. At its most attention getting, tracks like ‘PINK’, ‘WEALTH CENTER / RISK CAPITAL’, and the previously mentioned ‘BAPTIST TRAUMA’ showcase the group at their most abrasive. ‘PINK’ creates an upper crust of Anderegg’s pummeling drums with guitar drones running counter beneath. This leaves only a crawlspace for Leschper to operate in with some of her clearest vocals stretched to the limits of their tensile strength. Working in couplets, her murmured “I am in the backseat, I am watching your mouth in the rearview” comes off detached but also unnerving. This stretching out of lines is a device used throughout the album, leaving words like “blanket” or "apology" hanging at the end like a torn scrap of paper that used to be attached to something else. After a short interlude mid-song, the instruments come back at their most furious. This leaves the listener wondering if their speaker has been blown or, as the song starts to finally fade and it becomes apparent, an amp has been fried.
Other tracks, like the opening ‘BEAUTY ROUTINE’ start out more serenely but escalate to a monstrous drum beat at the end as Leschper pleads “show me a beauty routine to erase me completely”. The shambling ‘MUTUAL AGREEMENT’ stumbles around looking for footing and Leschper’s vocals come the closest here to something of a chorus, that is met with more musical aggression. Though one of the more slowly paced tracks here, the eight minute ‘MOTHER AND WIFE’ shows just how far this band has come since the prior album with this song duplicated but wrapped fully in their new sound. The album changes pace frequently, but never falters on its move forward ending in yet another peak on ‘FAT CHANCE’. The song comes the closest to anything proggy with its liquid bass and soaring vocals recalling the wordless heights of Pink Floyd’s ‘Great Gig in the Sky’, but firms up to a muscular finish.
When over the course of the album you are fully engaged but unable to pick out favorite tracks it’s a sure sign something valuable has been achieved. Leschper’s effort to somehow outlast her band in the cage match this work becomes is something to behold. She never resorts to screaming over her bandmates, though endures the right to. Render Another Ugly Method is akin to a large-scale Pollock painting, wholly inscrutable, physically intimidating, but infinitely compelling, with Leschper grasping for the rare spot of canvas where she can poke through. Whether Mothers can scale these heights again will be interesting to see. But as rare as it is for a group to break new ground these days, by rights this should end up in the pantheon of current music to be analyzed for years to come. If this album doesn't end up on year end "best of" lists, those of us on this side of the fence aren't paying enough attention.