Mother Tongue 2
Over the past few years, local psychedelic mind-melters Catacombz have established themselves as one of the most original and inventive bands in the city, developing a significant following on the strength of their explosive live shows and a steady stream of well-received recordings. But, somewhat paradoxically, attention and acclaim can often be more restricting than liberating, as the weight of people’s expectations and the instinct not to tamper with something that’s showing results can lead to stagnation and stasis. Thankfully, the new Mother Tongue 2, the follow-up to 2010’s first Mother Tongue release, dispels any of those worries as far as Catacombz is concerned, showcasing a band that’s smart enough not to fix what isn’t broken, but restless enough to expand an already varied sonic palette and synthesizing it all with a newfound sense of restraint.
To those initiated by last year’s self-titled LP—a furious tidal wave of riffs and noise—Mother Tongue 2 may not immediately impress in the same way, but it’s a much more mature and confident album in its own right, seeking to navigate and define space as opposed to merely filling it. Things still get loud—this is Catacombz after all—but those blasts of heaviness are the payoff to loping, funky grooves that get the chance to simmer before boiling over. It’s a study in contrasts, and the more ambient, relaxed passages (there’s even an interlude of trilling birds!) help throw the busy bits into sharp relief.
But if the album—released as a digital download as well as on cassette (dust off those Walkmans)—is concerned with space on a macro level, it’s also painstakingly aware of the spaces between minute elements, leading to some of the band’s most rhythmically complex work to date. As with any group worthy of the Krautrock mantle, driving motorik rhythms have played a big part in Catacombz’ sound—but here, they cast a wider net. The skittering beats and insistent chanting on “Gnarly Rider” sound like a cross between Material and Before And After Science-era Brian Eno, while album closer “White Sand/Black Skies” builds a sunny, space-age tribalism on a foundation of thudding floor toms. On first listen, the production can sound a little thin, but you come to appreciate that crisp, clean sound when you’re able to pick out those precise musical mechanisms that would be obscured by the kind of squalling feedback and superfluous layers of effects so associated with psych.
In much the same way that the songs are meticulously constructed, the entire album is so thoughtfully sequenced that it almost demands to be digested as a whole. Sure, standout tracks like “San Pangea” or the nearly eight-minute “Long Pretty Fingers” work just fine on their own, but a number of tunes don’t quite make sense without the loopy connective tissue that provides much of the necessary context. At 50 minutes, it would seem to be a little beefy to inspire repeat listens, but the album doesn’t bore, and it’s so seamless that it’s over almost before you know it. In an age where digital distribution has made cohesive albums seem like a thing of the past, it’s a daring move to release a batch of songs this inextricably interconnected; but like nearly all of the challenging choices on Mother Tongue 2, it’s one that largely pays off.
(Catacombz celebrate the release of Mother Tongue 2 Thursday, August 9 at Linneman’s.)