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'When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired': Moments of Beauty and Profound Urgency

Mothers-When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired-Grand Jury Music-4 STARS

Mothers’ debut album, “When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired,” is a welcome assurance that rock music these days has a lot of heart. Hailing from Athens, Georgia, Mothers is a folk-rock quartet, composed of frontwoman Kristine Leschper and her bandmates Matthew Anderegg, Drew Kirby, and Patrick Morales. In keeping with their local DIY alt scene that brought artists like R.E.M. and Neutral Milk Hotel to the mainstream, Mothers offers a folk-rock sensibility centered around a quietly urgent lyrical landscape.

Leschper’s vocals immediately draw comparison to those of her female contemporaries. There’s a bit of Angel Olsen’s rawness or Sharon Van Etten’s fragile introspection. Her voice strains and bend with a genuine, not affected, intensity that reinforces lyrical content. On “It Hurts Until It Doesn’t”—a standout track released last year as a single—Leschper invokes Olsen as she sing-yells at the upper end of her register, her voice pushing to create force. In two lines that begin with “I felt” swoop in, Leschper sounds like an off-kilter bird with a broken wing. Yet her wavering intensity never reaches desperation; it’s more an assertion that what she’s voicing is required, the product of a necessary feeling.

For the most part, bandmates Anderegg, Kirby, and Morales complement Leschper throughout the album: They often create moments of beauty by backing off slightly and giving her the space to let painful lyrics land. In the final minutes of the previously mentioned “It Hurts..,” for example, a light quickening of snare drums carries the track into the bridge. Moments later the instrumentation slows down, a hint of reverb creeping in as Leschper quiets and murmurs slightly to set up the mundane honesty of the line “I don’t like myself when I’m awake.”

Unfortunately, the four don’t always sound in sync. The track, “Nesting Behavior,” gestures towards an ethereal deftness but ultimately disappoints. Leschper’s vocal movements, on this song, sound a touch too whiny and operatic. The other sonic elements of the track doesn’t provide relief either, as sweeping violins irritate rather than soothe. The track doesn't succeed—but it also doesn’t detract from the sophistication of Mothers’ sound.

The deliberate use of guitar, drums, and bass throughout the album creates melding harmonies and repeated riffs that give songs an immediate, visceral rock edge. The track “Copper Mines,” for instance, offers palatable harmonies with a punk punch. Comparatively, on opening track “Too Small for Eyes,” the twanging of piano, ukulele, and violin lays a sturdy foundation for Leschper to play with the tone of her voice. Despite a surprisingly lovely, rustic kitschiness—that pays homage to fellow southern folk-rock artists like the Avett Brothers—this song doesn’t quite fit into the harsher, keyed-up instrumentation of later tracks. The subtle inventiveness of Mothers’ composition on other tracks, however, make up for this weaker song. For instance, on “Blood-letting,” a series of repeated chords, in tandem with string instrumentation, give greater attention to the elegance of Leschper’s quavering voice.

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The lyricism on “When You Walk…” often feels like the product of keepsakes through which Leschper painstakingly sorts: Among the abandoned lint and coins are fleeting moments of profound urgency. The imagery Leschper presents to us is often reserved and unassuming: a touch on the wrist, a napkin in the rain, the coppery taste of pennies. Certain lines stun because of their precision: “God is stuck singing himself to sleep / I am not the only one” (“Blood-letting”), or “I want your ghost inside a thimble” (“Lockjaw”). In these moving lyrics, Leschper simultaneously trudges through and circumvents loss. Other lyrics evoke the hopeless meanderings of a woeful teenager—“I don’t like myself when I’m awake” (“It Hurts Until It Doesn’t”) or “I hate my body,” (“Too Small For Eyes”) for example. Yet Leschper will frequently veer towards eloquent poeticism, as in the case with the latter, slipping in striking lines like “I love your taste / bird stirring in my chest.” The juxtaposition keeps lyrical content from sounding overwrought or saccharine.

The title of Mothers’ debut album reads as a weary fact: It suggests that the road to what Mothers presents to the listener has been a long time coming. As the album eases into its ending track—the breathlessly bittersweet “Hold Your Own Hand,” which features a jazz tempo that slows and transitions into soothing patient lullaby of a riff—Leschper sings, “I think I could learn to love,” in a way that suggests that all the walking has broken her heart. The energetic stomp of drums in the final minute feels like catharsis, an urgent release and final lap towards eventual rest.

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