Among the slew of albums coming out around the pandemic, Mother Mother’s eighth studio album Inside brings some rather lukewarm sentiments to the table. Generally middle of the road instrumentation and some seriously lackluster songwriting from the Canadian indie rock quintet leaves a corny taste in your mouth for a significant majority of the runtime.
The prevailing ethos of the album is a pretty clear reference to the pandemic and the resulting quarantine, as well as the troubles that adjusting to that would bring. “It’s not about being inside literally, it’s about going within,“ as frontman Ryan Guldemond put it during the premiere of their music video for “I Got Love.” It grips with isolation and all the stages one might encounter (destructive grief in “Until It Doesn’t Hurt” or “Sick of the Silence,” optimism in spite of adversity in “Like a Child” or “I Got Love”), but only a fraction of the album actually presents with any sense of nuance shy of “being stuck inside is hard, guys.“
At a glance, Ryan’s style can be described as using ubiquitous language alongside quirky vocals to inject some flavor into otherwise tired subjects. And you’d be right, for the most part. However, it really feels like Inside takes too long to get the more trite layers out of the way before exploring anything with much depth. There remains the argument that repetition legitimizes, but songs like “Two,” “Weep,” and “I Got Love” tend to teeter over the line and range anywhere from frustrating to downright grating.
To give credit where it’s due, the latter half of the album carries the more palatable and robust tracks such as “Girl Alone,” featuring the band’s keyboard player Jasmin Parkin as a solo vocalist. This, along with “Pure Love,” is a fine example of the band’s potential with the focus they chose. Haunting vocals and overdriven and bluesy guitar give the track that lo-fi oomph without connoting any lack of effort. There’s a distance in her tone, and the lyrics aren’t mind-bogglingly complex, but they remain poignant and contemporary to artists like Mitski or St. Vincent.
Further credit due to the instrumental tracks, being the opener “Seven” and track 12, “Breathe.” With “Seven” as the first thing you hear, equipped with the rattling and unrest of a riot fused with the unsettling rumble of a synth bass, it’s wrought with a feeling of despair or dread. “Breathe” evokes a similar ambiance, with desolate piano trudging underneath ghastly voices that would fit handily within the Silent Hill universe. The saddest part being the liminality of both of these tracks. Only really serving as an intro and interlude respectively, there’s something to be said about how concisely they fit the imagery brought on by the album art alone that leaves most of the rest of the album tonally stranded by comparison.
Another major downfall of Inside’s comes by means of pacing. The band somehow finds a way to build momentum to a certain point (see “Seven” into “Two,” “I Got Love” into “Stay Behind”) only to bleed it all out within a song or two. The first leg of the album being the most clear example, the encroaching sound of “Seven” leads to the pounding and belligerent drums of “Two,” into the rampaging maelstrom of sound that is “Sick of the Silence,” only to slam on the brakes when it comes time for the kumbaya group hug that is “Forgotten Souls.”
Overall, the band’s latest project functions less like a prism distilling light into a spectrum of salient issues facing the world at large and more like a couple swatches they switch between on a whim. While the last few tracks do attempt to pull things together with a relative degree of success, it ultimately comes as too little, too late.