Published on 13th April 2016
Mothertongue – Unsongs
There is such a thing as good modern pop…no, really, there is. Forget all that autotuned nonsense that dominates braindead mainstream radio, or “hairdresser music” as I call it, and ignore the witless proclamations of a certain self-proclaimed genius, dig a bit deeper and it’s still all there. From Gaz Coombes’ sublime solo album, to the Soft Machine influenced trip hop of Flying Lotus, to the latest Americana moves of Beck, to the jazz flavoured rap of Kendrick Lamar, to the fabulously off-kilter indie of Julia Holter and Joanna Newsome, what all these have in common is that in this post-everything age there are no restrictions, the pick’n’mix bag of influences is bottomless, anything goes. It is ironic but true that good new pop is often far more progressive than the music produced under the self-imposed limitations of the “prog” label nowadays.
The Bad Elephant Music remit is similar in that it also seems that anything goes where signings are concerned. There is not a “Bad Elephant sound”, and unlike many similarly small independent labels they do not seem at all concerned in constructing an image. Obviously this scattergun approach will mean that some of their output will do nothing for me, but some of it will be absolutely fabulous. Sounds like any decent label from the golden age if you ask me, I mean who can honestly say they liked everything on Harvest, or Island, or whoever?
Anyway, back to the subject in hand. Unsongs by Manc lads Mothertongue, an outfit hitherto unknown to me, fulfils all my criteria outlined above for ambitious pop and is a shining example of the ill-defined (or non-existent?) genre remit of Bad Elephant Records. This album surprises at every turn, taking in so many pop references that it goes beyond categorisation, and any attempt to describe what is going on is rendered impossible by the labyrinthine twists and turns the record goes through, sometimes within one track, Nautilus being a classic example. You think you’re getting a handle on it when it will change course from lounge jazz beats to post-punk pop, to glam, before veering off down a side alley and into a Latino disco for a frug with Kid Creole, before ending up in The Rezillos’ front parlour, all within the space of five breathless minutes of headrush progressive pop mischief-making.
I was kind of hoping they would look as bizarre as their music, but as you can see above sadly this is not the case. Still you can’t have everything, can you? That such unremarkable looking chaps can produce such quality tunesmithery is British understatement writ large, if that is not too much of a contradiction in terms!
Ultimately, this is a FUN record, the Estuary English urchin vocals of Louis Smith – odd, as the band apparently hail from Manchester – adding to its mischievous spirit. If a supremely daft song like Shango doesn’t put a smile on your careworn fizzog, you either have NSOH or the botox has set hard. One wonders if Cardiacs had been a slightly less confrontational prospect and a pop band where the tune was of prime importance, they might have sounded like this. That was a comparison, and as such probably quite naff, just go listen for yourself.
01. King Of The Tyrant Lizards (4:28)
02. A Poem That The Sky Wrote (3:37)
03. Perfect Zero (3:35)
04. The Fog (5:56)
05. Nautilus (5:16)
06. Little Mice (4:03)
07. Shango (2:40)
08. Waxwing (2:43)
09. Funeral Song For The Icarus Worm (0:48)
10. Bloopers’ Theme (4:02)
11. Sidescroller (0:56)
12. Starcross (4:17)
13. These Hands (6:07)
Total time – 48:30
Phil Dixon – Guitar, Backing Vocals
Will Holden – Bass, Backing Vocals, Saxophone
Andy Malbon – Trumpet, Cornet, Backing Vocals
John Simm – Drums, Percussion, Programming, Synths, Backing Vocals
Louis Smith – Vocals, Guitar, Synths, Ukulele
Mark Wall – Guitar, Mandolin, Violin, Synths, Backing Vocals
Record Label: Bad Elephant Music
Year Of Release: 2016