Catalonian teen quartet Mourn makes a passionate racket on their debut album. Singer Jazz Rodriguez Bueno channels PJ Harvey with her raspy delivery and more cutting lyrics on tracks like “Dark Issues,” or a young Siouxsie, on the way she can play with emotions but still bring a smile to your face, on songs like galloping opener “Your Brain is Made of Candy.” Her band keeps things terse, inspired by the likes of Nirvana and The Ramones, yet their clean guitars and neat grooves on standouts like “Philliphius” and “Otitis” suggest wisdom beyond their years. A handful of tracks read as more juvenile alt-rock exercises, yet Mourn also never loses momentum, bashed out with a live-tracked, Steve Albini feel and the animated precision of off-the-cuff ideas rehearsed and captured in one raw take—Bueno’s wail at the end of bonus track “Boys Are Cunts” feels both visceral and well-timed. It’s an incredibly promising debut that puts our faith back in so-called wasted youth.
Father John Misty’s fearless second record builds on his folk-rock sound with orchestral touches, genre diversions and direct, conversational lyrics that cut through singer/songwriter clichÃ©s. The title track introduces Beatlesesque melodies and weeping steel guitar to prepare you for the scope of the record. J. Tillman starts going into crooner mode with the spectacular “Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins),” his crushed-velvet vocals singing over a sweeping, country-symphonic arrangement, but his lyrics nicely keep the romanticism from getting too gooey (“I wanna take you in the kitchen/Lift up your wedding dress someone was probably murdered in”). “True Affection” takes a sharp turn into MIDI-electro-dream-pop, with some Fleet Foxes-style harmonies keeping things grounded in Tillman’s wheelhouse. “The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apartment” takes another turn, this time into Velvets-third-album twinkling indie pop, while Tillman calls out an airheaded groupie (“She says like, literally, music is the air she breathes,” he sings hilariously). Tillman’s lyrics work so well because of their specificity—you feel like you’re watching him break hearts at a local bar when he sings “Why the long face? Blondie, I’m already taken,” over a sultry Southern sway on “Nothing Good Ever Happens At The Goddamn Thirsty Crow.” Such subject matter could read as self-serving, if not for the album’s more self-effacing tracks, like “The Ideal Husband,” in which Tillman admits various wrongdoings, petty or otherwise, over nervy rock ‘n’ roll; or “Bored in the USA,” a piano ballad that seems to mock Tillman’s own first-world problems of alienation and dullness (“Save me, white Jesus!” is an awesomely cutting exclamation). Tillman’s refusal to do anything in a typical way while still keeping the music highly polished helps I Love You, Honeybear to never feel indulgent. Rather, it’s an extraordinarily giving album, as Tillman’s honesty and strength as a songwriter and performer has grown immeasurably. It’s easily one of the best albums of the year thus far.
PST: How do you approach a new album? Does it come from whatever you happen to be playing and writing at the moment, or do you go in with a specific notion of what you want to do?
Chasny: It’s usually sort of a specific notion sort of thing. This record, it just seemed time to do it. I like to do the opposite of whatever the last record was. Asleep on the Floodplain was so acoustic. I thought the best thing would be to do a more loud record. Then I realized we never did the record we would have done 10 years ago and I thought it would be the perfect time.
PST: What inspired the heavier rock sound of the new album? Were you inspired by anything you were listening to at the time, or was it really more a reaction to what you had previously recorded?
Chasny: I think, that’s always been a side of Six Organs that’s been more of a live thing but that’s never really been captured on record. So I’ve done tours with a live band that was all electric, but I’ve just never done it as a record. And I didn’t want to do a live record to capture it, I just wanted to get into the studio to do that. I just thought it was time to record it in the studio.
PST: Who plays on the new album and is in the live band?
Chasny: On the album it’s all of the Comets guys — it’s just basically Ethan [Miller] and Utrillo [Kushner], Ben Flashman and Noel [von Harmonson]. The touring band is gonna change because everyone does so many different things all the time. If we could get everyone back together, we would probably just tour as Comets or do a Comets record. One of the reasons we don’t play together anymore is just everyone is always doing something different. On the West Coast, all the California shows are gonna have me, Ben Flashman, Utrillo on drums and Noel’s gonna be on guitar. So it’ll be three other Comets guys besides me. The Northwest will have a couple of Comets guys. When we do Europe, it will be a couple of the Comets guys.
PST: Did these songs mostly come from jams, from songs you had written at least part of beforehand or both?
Chasny: A couple of the songs are older songs that were on older records, on Holy Mountain. Before I joined Comets, all the Comets guys used to back up Six Organs, because Six Organs and Comets would play shows together, but Comets would always play in reall loud bars and no one could really hear the acoustic guitar, so we were doing sort of loud, electric versions before I joined Comets. So we took that idea for the older songs, and then I wrote a bunch of the newer songs in December and sent the guys the demos, and then we worked on those before we recorded.
PST: The album does have a live, sort of freewheeling feel. How many takes did you usually do? Did you record it live and/or use overdubs?
Chasny: It was all recorded live. There are some overdubs on a couple of songs just to beef it up, some of the slower pieces have overdubbed guitar solos. Most of the tracks were recorded live, and all the guitar solos were record live. I’d say anywhere between four and seven takes on some of the songs. It was pretty spontaneous. We had them all down. It’s not like the songs have hyper complicated time changes or key changes or anything, so it was more about getting a really good feel to the songs.
PST: What inspired putting “Your Ghost” on the record, this acoustic number amongst the heavier, live-band material?
Chasny: When I was doing the demos, I did all the demos on acoustic guitar anyway. We just transferred them to an electric thing. It was everyone’s opinion that maybe that one should just be acoustic. We were kind of fooling around with it different ways, and we just thought it might kind of break up the record a little bit if we kept it solo acoustic.
PST: I really love “Even If You Knew” on the new album. Was the goal with songs like that one and “Waswasa” to just have a great forum to be able to let loose and explore band interplay?
Chasny: “Even If You Knew” was a song we used to do 10 years ago. That’s the one song that has co-credit writing for all the Comets guy. Ethan came up with bassline when I lived in Santa Cruz. We all wrote the song together a long time ago. It’s never been recorded. And then “Waswasa,” I wrote when I was at a friend’s house in England, and he had his guitar tuned really strangely in a tuning I’d never used before. I picked it up and that was the song that came out of it. I kind of thought this should be a rock song kinda thing. That was one of the pushing points to make the whole record more of a rock record. I came up with the riff on this acoustic guitar and thought the record should have more of this rock kind of sound. That’s why it’s first on the record and kind of key to it being loud.
Also out today is the first album in 40 years from British singer-songwriter Bill Fay. I hadn’t heard Fay’s music previously, but after hearing the stunning Life is People, I’ll be sure to check out his earlier work. “There is a Valley” is a spiritual of sorts personifying the trees, sheep and flowers that surround humanity, detailing how they’ve born witness to the destruction caused by humanity. It doesn’t come off as preachy, but rather, when taken with the album’s title, allows its listeners to see the bigger picture of humanity as one element that impacts its environment more than any other. It helps that Fay’s voice evokes rare wisdom, like a subtler Leonard Cohen or calmer Patti Smith. While many of the songs on Life is People invite somber meditation, based around ominous orchestration, there’s also a fighting spirit that saves Life is People from too much cynicism — even as lines call to mind the struggles of the working poor on “This World,” a collaboration from admirer Jeff Tweedy (of Wilco, who covered Fay’s “Be Not So Fearful” in their documentary I Am Trying to Break Your Heart), the song benefits from a sunny, alt-country delivery. Similarly, “The Healing Day” is so lush that even its bittersweet tone feels comforting, as Fay sings a simple line like “it’ll be OK” and sends shivers down your spine. But you don’t have to take my word for it — listen to a full album stream below and pick up a copy of Life is People.
Miss Ess: What music did you hear in your house when you were growing up, before you had a choice? Do you think this music had any influence on you?
Ben Chasny: The Rolling Stones - Tattoo You. Well, I have a crazy tribal backplate, so yes.
ME: When did you pick up the guitar?
BC: When I realized it was a lot easier to play like that than when it was lying on the ground (waa waaaa).
ME: When and how did you start writing songs?
BC: When I was 3. I wrote a song called "The Futility of the Rattle" inspired by Sartre. I've tried to simplify things since then.
ME: How has living in Seattle as opposed to the Bay Area influenced your latest batch of songs?
BC: Well, I can still look California here but feel Minnesota. Or is it the other way around?
ME: What made you ready to move away from a mostly guitar-based sound for this album?