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THE MOTHERSHIP – Ten Miles Wide

The Mothership is a four-piece alternative rock/grunge band from Seattle.  In March 2011, they released a debut three song EP.  That gave a reasonable taster of The Mothership’s sound, but this full length  released just six months later,  allows the band a longer – if not always broader – canvas on which to show off their talents.

The general mood of the record is quickly apparent once ‘Songbird’ kicks in.  After a slow intro peppered by trumpet, the band launches into a piece of chunky alternative rock, which could best be described as something from ‘Superunknown’-era Soundgarden if it were reworked by Joshua Homme.  The ominous pace captures the spirit of all that was great about Seattle in the 90s, but while it comes with an undeniably plodding approach, it never actually feels leaden at all. While the band sounds relatively weighty in their delivery, the DIY production is good enough to make ‘Ten Miles Wide’ sound finished, but not too shiny – which obviously, is just right for The Mothership’s chosen subgenre.  The “heavy but never leaden” feel applies to most of The Mothership’s best work; their arrangements often appear to move along rather briskly despite often being hugely riff heavy.  [As proved by Soundgarden’s second album ‘Louder Than Love’, it is easy enough to make a heavy record, but much harder to make such heaviness remain buoyant.  For the most part, that album sounded like a dragging dirge in the early 90s, and time has not improved things.  For a band whom would later prove themselves masters of their art, it has to be wondered how that 1989 outing went so horribly wrong. The Mothership’s work has no such problems here.]

‘The Plank’ comes in with another meaty riff, mixing typical Seattle-isms with a more groove-laden approach.  The twin guitars of John Beckman and Paul Fraser aren’t always subtle, but an occasional melody played in a higher key provides a great musical touch.  ‘No Minor’ allows drummer Will Andrews to lay down a slightly more complex rhythm, while a dual vocal is delivered with a 90s sneer.  Despite the lack of instant hook, there’s enough attitude here to grab the listener, recalling early Soundgarden and a few of their peers.  Those influences pulled from classic grunge should provide enough plaid-shirted thrills to those who still love early 90s (then) alternative music.

The more typical alt-rock styles take a rest during ‘Knifey Spooney’, as the band trade in their preferred approach for something much funkier.  A choppy guitar riff melds with a fluid bassline as the band tinker with something bordering on jam-band territory.  While there’s a dose of funk here that’s occasionally peppered with a slight Latin-eque mood, it’s not as if the band has suddenly started to channel Dave Matthews or Stephen Stills’ Manassas… There remains a strong alt-rock edge to the rhythm guitar and basslines, while Beckman’s vocal still retains enough ragged qualities to remind the listener of the truest roots of The Mothership’s music.

The acoustic blues-rock which begins ‘Ugly Love’ owes a huge debt to The Screaming Trees – perhaps more specifically Mark Lanegan’s solo debut ‘The Winding Sheet’ – with more obviously laid back qualities.  Echoing electric guitar parts cutting between the woozy vocals are a great flourish and in turn have an equally fantastic sound.  Things turn full electric for the choruses, when The Mothership sounds as if they’re embarking on their own Desert Session.  In all, this track is superb – without doubt, ‘Ten Miles Wide’s finest moment.  Similarly, the acoustic based ‘Burn Pile’ aims for atmospheres over bombast, allowing the vocal to carry most of the tune.  Extra atmosphere comes via a few swirly reverb sounds, making this downbeat number the ideal way to wind things down after the maximum rock posturing elsewhere.

There are three or four genuinely excellent songs found within ‘Ten Miles Wide’s twelve cuts, and a few more really solid offerings (with no outright duds).   Joining a whole barrage of bands keen to revisit alternative music of the early 90s, The Mothership’s first full length may often sound a tad predictable, but for those willing to spare the time, it should be a mostly enjoyable ride.

June 2012

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