|Magumbo Meat Pie EP||1988||2.93/pi|
|Coming into Beauty||1992||2.96/pi|
The Mommyheads are a not very well known indie rock band that spent much of the 80s and 90s bouncing from one record label to another, most of which are now out of business, or were never in business to begin with. Their albums are mostly out of print, but you can still buy copies of a few of them if you know where to look, and of course they have an incredibly tiny internet fanbase which probably contains at least one person willing to hook you up with the rest.
Why should you care about yet another obscure NY indie rock band that released a handful of 7-inches during the first Bush administration? Well, you don’t have to if you don’t want to. But I consider their 80s releases to be some of the best rock music of that decade.
Lineup: Adam Cohen: guitars, piano, vocals. Matt Patrick: bass, vocals. Jan Kotik: drums.
In 1990 they moved to San Francisco, mellowed out, and, uh, were gradually replaced by different people, except frontguy Adam Cohen:
Eventual lineup: Adam Cohen: guitars, vocals. Mike Holt: keyboards, vocals. Jeff Palmer: bass, vocals. Dan Fisherman: drums.
This humble 7" EP (unfortunately, just as out of print as almost every other Mommyheads release) is a miniature zolo masterpiece. “Butcher’s Daughter” shows their early punkish exuberance. “Imperfect Love” is my pick for highlight, an earnestly freakish love hyperballad-thing, but all four songs are great.
This is one of those releases that pretty much is the definition of indie: the “liner notes” of the CD reissue are a black and white photocopy, and the disc itself is clad in a white paper label. The sound is lo-fi, and it’s out of necessity, not artsiness, with recordings cobbled together cheaply at several different studios in the band’s native New York. Years later, the band would get a major label deal shortly before imploding, but this is their raw, teenage debut (not counting the earlier Magumbo Meat Pie EP) in all its glory.
Well, I don’t know that “raw” is really a word I would ever apply to the Mommyheads. This is sharp, brainy rock recalling zolo pioneers like XTC and Gentle Giant, but also post-punk bands like the Feelies, the Violent Femmes, and the oddball latter-day King Crimson. The songs are short and often multi-part, loaded with interlocking rhythms and unexpected touches like violin, Nepalese horn, and what sound like backup vocals from a toddler. The melodies are the kind that sound slightly unnatural on first listen, but perfect by the tenth.
Opener “Cactus Farm” is the manifesto. Adam Cohen and Matt Patrick trade vocal harmonies and contrapuntal riffs as Jan Kotik provides some nuttily creative drumming. Suddenly, halfway through, the band launches into math-rock overdrive, like a nerd removing his pocket protector and using it as a makeshift condom.
I guess these guys had a bigger budget this time, because everything sounds pretty good, and there are all sorts of fun production touches and even more guest appearances—including by a couple guys who will soon be replacing 2/3 of the original members of the band.
Like all of their work, this is a real grower of an album, with intricate, delicate structures and tricky rhythms that mask the honey-smooth melodies beneath. Sometimes they’re a bit too weird or laid-back for their own good, but most of these songs are subtly energy-packed and wittily arranged.