For a few years in the early and mid-2000s, the music industry decided to hitch its wagon to any band who could moan about lost love and forgotten dreams while donning black and hiding behind their bangs. Then, sometime around 2008, alt rock stopped hating itself, leaving the majority of those bands in the dust. It was tough at first, but the world eventually managed to wipe away its eyeliner and move on.
Unfortunately for Vancouver-based rock band Mother Mother, Very Good Bad Thing missed this memo. The dark beats, strangled harmonies, and overwrought lyrics evoke the smell of temporary hair dye and a Hot Topic dressing room. It’s 2014, not 2006, and the album proves what everybody already knows: emo angst doesn’t age well.
Despite the fact that frontman Ryan Guldemond manages to sing, “I don’t feel like I’m even here, you may just watch me disappear,” with a straight face, Mother Mother is careful not to go full tortured suburban teenager. The band is partially aware of the current decade, smearing synth riffs over everything and dropping the bass with Skrillex-like enthusiasm. When Jasmin Parker and Molly Guldemond assume singing duties, the two stretch for the higher register that is working wonders for CHVRCHES, MisterWives and Cash Cash. (The takeaway: one head voice does not fit all.) “Reaper Man” resembles KONGOS’s breakout hit, “Come With Me Now,” but lacks the fearless intensity that makes the latter so powerful. It’s a mess – ten tracks that seem to be the direct result of somebody asking, “This is what the kids are into these days, right?”
In spite of itself, Very Good Bad Thing has one impressive standout: the pulsing “Modern Love” that emerges as a sultry, after midnight dance floor anthem. A relentless bass drum, tight harmonies, and the best lyrics on the record (“She’s the language on the tongue of all the sinners.”) pull the track’s weight along with a hook as catchy as it is seductive.
Most albums err on the side of either quantity or quality, but Very Good Bad Thing struggles with both. While Mother Mother are obviously capable of delivering a killer song, it comes individually wrapped and surrounded by flimsy tracks that sound hollow in comparison. The end result is not just tired. It’s dead on arrival.