Most new mothers will agree that the first couple of years of motherhood are the most chaotic. Everything seems to be run by trial and error and life has a tendency to descend into disorder. The same can be said for Canada’s Motherhood, a three-piece punk-rock outfit from New Brunswick. Motherhood describe themselves as a “trio of deep-thinkin’ rippers” which is contrary to the disorganised chaos they present on record. Returning with Dear Bongo, Motherhood offers up an album that doesn’t take itself too seriously and unfortunately, it’s hard to believe that anyone else would either.
The record feels juvenile, with an extremely short attention span where songs randomly break down and change unnecessarily. Without a hint of cohesion amongst the songs, it is hard to imagine that this album wasn’t recorded as a drunken dare. Admirably, it is obvious that Brydon Crain (guitar, vocals), Penelope Stevens (bass, keys, vocals) and Adam Sipkema (drums) have passion for their craft and are committed to writing and performing together, which they have done for the past eight years. However, Dear Bongo, doesn’t showcase the live energy that they are known for, instead it feels more like a demonstration of their inability to understand their wider audience.
This misunderstanding is abundantly evident through the first two singles off the record, “Pick of the Pugs” and “Bird Chirp”. It is borderline concerning that Motherhood considered these two songs to be the most radio-friendly. “Pick of the Pugs” features music box solos, hillbilly-style vocals and truly cringe-worthy lyrics. Admittedly, it’s more appealing than second single “Bird Chirp” which never seems to click into a solid groove, leaving the listener feeling awkward and unsettled. It is for the most part, four minutes of nonsense. Fully embodying the short attention span of the record, this song appears to be a number of unrelated ideas poorly stitched together.
Following the bizarre opener is the slightly improved “Way Down” which has more of a steady melody than other tracks on the record, but in the end just sounds like an amateur attempt at a Grouplove song. Crain seeks to emulate Christian Zucconi’s sound that is characteristic of Grouplove without achieving the same impressive result, instead the listener is left with a wayward imitation that seems forced.
Track three “#224” is an instrumental hot mess. It lacks the finesse that instrumental tracks need to remain relevant within a record. It is messy and disorganised with many separate ideas badly tacked together. This could easily have been left off the album as it feels like a filler without purpose or meaning.
“Nuns” brings back the vocals in a classic ballad style that doesn’t fit with the timbre of Crain’s voice. The guitars employ a nice tremolo effect that wafts through underneath the grating, nasally vocal melody that is out of tune in some parts. The vocals sound like they are in another key, out of Crain’s range and the screaming doesn’t help him to hit the note he should be hitting. This song had more promise than most until the end half which brings such a level of discomfort, it is almost too difficult listen to.
The record descends into even deeper stages of unnatural bedlam and lunacy in “Constanza”. Interrupted beat patterns, droning guitar tones rising and falling, the trade-off between Crain’s anxious screaming and drill-sergeant-like chanting create a repetitive mush of noise that sounds like the disintegration of Crain’s psyche. The concept sounds good in theory; however, it is poorly executed and feels more like a head-bashing than an artful piece of music, especially with the extended outro that serves no purpose.
The second instrumental “Sweet Kid” is more interesting than earlier “#224” with a more engaging riff, but after listening to the same sweeping chords going back and forth with slight variations, it loses its shine and just becomes another self-indulgent filler.
“Hallways” has more groove than any other track on the record and has a vocal melody that is quite catchy. If only it wasn’t let down by the heavily hillbilly inspired lyrics. “I beg your pardon if I hardy-ha the hardest” croons Crain in the thickest deep-southern accent he can muster. Regardless of the lyrics, the tune does bound along well-enough and provides the slightest glimmer of songwriting ability, something greatly lacking from the rest of the record.
The album finishes off with “Reprise”, a literal reprise of one line from opener “Bird Chirp” but slowed to half speed. Normally, when an album reprises a song or idea and brings it back at the end it creates a sense of catharsis, the listener feels like they have gone on a journey and are now returning home. Ball Park Music, for example, achieved this successfully with their first album Happiness and Surrounding Suburbs (2011), bringing back a line from the first track and using it to fade out the album in the end. However, Motherhood’s use of this technique feels cheap and lazy. The listener doesn’t feel a sense of triumph, especially after an album that is, in essence, only six and half songs long, not including instrumentals.
Consequently, Motherhood has offered up something entirely unique in that it is difficult to draw comparisons between Dear Bongo, and anything else that has been commercially released due to its bizarre and amateur nature. There are so many things wrong with this album, from the sloppy production and mixing to the careless approach to songwriting where ideas are forced together without apparent thought. The whole record just feels like a continuous stream of bad decisions and nothing stands out enough to make amends for the drivel that the band presents. It is an unfortunate addition to their discography and serious changes need to be made in so many areas before they release their next record.
Dear Bongo, is released Friday 1st March via Forward Music Group