A deeper look at the grooves pressed into the Songs For Our Mothers LP by Fat White Family.
It doesn’t happen often in the post-CD, post-digital music marketplace but, with Songs For Our Mothers, Fat White Family has proven that creating a satisfying and balanced long-playing vinyl album – with the peaks, valleys and thematic movements which propel the music along smoothly from A-side to B- without being “a formless collection of songs” – is not a lost art quite yet.
On this LP, it’s plain to hear that meticulous care has been taken to ensure that each side features a clear way in, an obvious way out, and movements in between which spur excitement and imagination in those who hear them. That’s impressive on its own but, in keeping with old-school assembly values, Songs For Our Mothers doesn’t pack so much in that the highlights get overrun, nor do the songs crowd each other needlessly; it’s five songs per side here, and each is left ample room to sparkle or shine as the artist imagines.
May some critics say that the construction of the Songs For Our Mothers LP seems as though it might have been over-thought? Maybe, but any audiophile will happily cheer that such forethought is a refreshing change.
As the drone which fades “Whitest Boy On Earth” in and opens the album’s A-side, listeners will be able to feel the fine hairs on their necks stand up in anticipation. This beginning is so effective that, when the drums appear five seconds later, some listeners may actually recoil in surprise. Their eyes will also widen when the sinewy bass enters the aural frame of the song and a bit of guitar adds some texture, but it’s when Lias Saoudi (backed tightly by Saul Adamczewski) makes his way in with his strange, sun-baked tenor asking listeners repeatedly if he’s the palest dude by the shore atop a mock-danceable beat which features an ever-so-slightly wracked bent about it.
The result is a “pop song” only in the strictest sense; there are obvious pop elements in it, but the track never really progresses to anywhere. It just sort of marches in place and gives an introduction to what the band MAY attempt later, however there is no definite proof. That it feels unfinished actually proves to be the hook; listeners will want to see where this thing is headed and how (or if) it develops.
Happily, those who hang around don’t have to wait long for Songs For Our Mothers to do something interesting. Immediately after “Whitest Boy…” exits, “Satisfied” swaggers out with a pretty deep, sinister-sounding bass line topped with more than a few touchings of early Devo for good measure. The mixture is really, really cool; random (or seemingly so), discordant, electronic sounds bounce from one channel to the other through a good set of headphones as Saoudi groans in a detached monotone about being “Satisfied” and really tweaks listeners’ interest.
The song ends up playing like the perfect antithesis of the cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” that Devo did, to be honest, and then it just clatters to a halt when the band figures it has gone on long enough. There’s no question that “Satisfied” leaves an indelible impression after it has played out; listeners will still be hooked by what they’ve heard, but the hard and fast answer to where the band is heading with what they’re doing here is still out.
When the incredibly lugubrious, walking pace of “Love Is The Crack” mopes its way in, somehow, what’s going on through the A-side of Songs For Our Mothers starts to gel. Through the first two songs on the album, Fat White Family had coupled discarded chunks of Devo’s high-concept art-rock with the drugged out mania that Flaming Lips was notorious for in their early work as a sort of sound collage. It was a little awkward but, by “Love Is The Crack,” it all makes sense – the pieces align and listeners will discover a groovy hate fuck of a pastiche that is not only danceable, it’s infectious. This discovery is so profound, some listeners will find themselves lifting the needle to re-start the side in order to re-evaluate what they’ve already heard but might not have understood.
And what listeners find going forward from “Love Is The Crack” is a vibrant and stoned exercise rife with bizarre turns and dead ends, but a fascinating one, nonetheless. “Duce” takes turns stumbling and stomping like a drunk or a zombie without a lot of intelligible lyrics but with attitude to spare before artfully collapsing and allowing “Lebensraum” to escort listeners out with a surfy, David Lynch-y refrain which guarantees that listeners will continue along to the B-side; it’s phenomenal bait.
And on that B-side, “Hits Hits Hits” begins the business menacingly – in a manner similar to how Leonard Cohen operated on The Future, calmly and urbanely examining some darker tendencies. There, Saoudi traces a vocal line which runs between simmering and simpering as wounded lines like, “There’s a hatred in my bones, just can’t live without/ Sister Tina patience is starting to bruise” almost sound like thinly veiled threats. Of course, nothing is resolved by song’s end and that open ending leaves a great hook to continue on with the side exposed.
After “Hits Hits Hits,” both “Tinfoil Deathstar” and “When Shipman Decides” offer up different colors of noir-ish delights. “Tinfoil Deathstar” comes first and takes its time with an extended build, but it really pays off with the clattering, horrific chorus which makes a solid case for a keyboard’s use in rock, and Saul Adamczewski‘s spoken word bridge. After that, the stage is set perfectly for “When Shipman Decides” and its sort of delirious, “Munchkinland on ecstacy” dystopian vibe and the clattering, glowering ‘almost Waitsian’ workshop’ “We Must Learn To Rise.”
These two songs stand out from the pack, particularly; while the album features no shortage of weirdness and drugged-out hijinks throughout, these two tracks take that energy up a level in that they seem to actually be genuinely hazardous. The clattering through “We Must Learn To Rise” is particularly worrisome in that it doesn’t exactly feel like anyone’s in control; while Waits always keeps a firm hand on the running of his records, it doesn’t feel like Fat White Family is doing that here and what might be a worrisome exercise in more experienced hands is flat-out harrowing here.
Because of that, when the drunk-sounding, heartache-colored ballad “Goodbye Goebbels” arrives after “We Must Learn To Rise” to close down both the side and the album, the final sensation is unquestionably one of relief. The dark notes upon which Songs For Our Mothers ends almost seems as though it was arranged to be unsettling, and the band definitely achieves that.
As unsettling and weird as the album’s B-side might end out, no one will be able to deny that they haven’t been more than a little intrigued by the experience of Songs For Our Mothers‘ second half. After they’ve run through it, it’s hard to not want to know more; as Jolie Holland and only a select few others have been able to do, Fat White Family has managed to color the music of Songs For Our Mothers with a bit of darkness and danger without giving themselves or listeners over to it completely. On vinyl, that experience is far clearer than it is on CD, because the sides line up in such a way that listeners get a chance to breathe and digest the music along their way through. Because of that, vinyl is the best way to enjoy Songs For Our Mothers.
Ground Control Magazine – Fat White Family – Songs For Our Mothers – [CD review] groundcontrolmag.com/fat-white-family-album