Mourn: Sorpresa Familia

The face of indie rock has been and continues to be indomitably youthful.  Over the past couple of decades it’s also become increasingly global in scope.  The most recent progression has seen a surge in the prominence of all female or female fronted bands.  While this trend is not as recent as the music industry might have us think, the rise of bands like the Catalonian quartet Mourn to international prominence is exciting nonetheless.  Consider these artists all fronted by women in their early twenties or younger: Hinds from neighboring Madrid, Baltimore based Lindsey Jordan a.k.a. Snail Mail, Swiss born and Nashville native Sophie Allison better known as Soccer Mommy, Harmony Tividad and Cleo Tucker of L.A. based Girlpool, and many others.  Of course, this makes sense seeing as twenty plus years ago, in the mid-1990’s, the groundwork was being laid by outspoken feminist firebrands like Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, and Sleater-Kinney.  These artists, among many others who verbally and sometimes physically confronted hegemony at their shows, smashed stereotypes with their lyrics and live performances, and challenged heteronormative male dominated rock music, would serve as the influencing forces of today’s new musicians.  Intentionally I stop short of suggesting that the bands I’ve mentioned above have the same agenda as their Riot Grrrl predecessors, but surely they’re conscious of the precedents they fought so hard to establish and as such are building from their foundation in new and meaningful ways. If nothing else , these bands have shown that teenagers and twenty-somethings are the future of new music and we are in good hands.  The days of aging elders shaking their fists in disdain at an aimless and indolent generation before theirs is long gone, at least within the music world bubble. And so, I believe Mourn is as good a case study as any I’ve mentioned.  Their youthfulness extends only to their age and energy, as their music reflects a far more mature and sophisticated polish often associated with more veteran acts.  Their song structures are complicated but not obtuse. The intricacies of each offer insights into their creativity, virtuosity, and voices as global citizens operating within a smooth boundaryless pan-political world.  As members of this world, these young women have plenty to say and aren’t afraid to shout it out.

Mourn co-founders and best friends, Carla Pérez Vas and Jazz Rodríguez Bueno the bands oldest members at 22, first met at IES Alexandre Satorras Secondary School in Catalonia Spain.  They shared their love of 90’s punk and indie rock citing PJ Harvey, Nirvana, Elliott Smith,and Sleater-Kinney as touchstones among others.  There’s no doubt that their sound pays homage to their musical heroes but their songs avoid cheap derivation and remain true to their origins and experiences.  While still maturing on Sorpresa Familia, their 3rd full-length album, Mourn’s tightly wound sound is all their own while weaving threads of the familiar in with each track.  Just when a song begins to sound disparate, pulling away from the cohesive whole of the album, it’s thrust back into the orbit of the spinning whole making for exciting excursions rather than wandering lapses.

Father to Jazz and Leia, Ramon Rodríguez fronts the Barcelona based indie-pop band The New Raemon.  His collection of records can be attributed as the genesis of influence for Mourn’s 90’s inspired sound, starting with a PJ Harvey record Jazz pulled out and played when she was a kid.  Attestations of Ms. Polly Jean’s strong vocal stylings can be heard in trace amounts on Mourn’s recordings as can similar overarching themes from Harvey’s more recent albums, which have become more overly political in nature.  On their latest album Sorpresa Familia, which translates to “Surprise Family”, the band sings poetically about their turbulent past with their previous label, life on the road as a newly formed “family”, and what I suspect is the issue of immigration as it exists in most of Europe with families fleeing war torn areas like Syria for refuge elsewhere.  Regardless of the content of what Jazz and Carla are singing about on a given song, it’s always executed with an exuberance that in cadence and passion alone drives the music forward with authenticity and vigor.

The album utilized the LP format in that there is a distinct A side and B side.  The opening track of “Barcelona City Tour” begins with a recording of clinking glasses, chatter, and laughter before slamming discordantly into sonic dissonance underscoring the repeated chorus of “They can let you in. They can kick you out!”  In this sense, the ambient recording of people breaking bread as a family captures these individuals, presumably the band members themselves, as a family. But to a broader extent, who is allowed to stay or who is denied entrance into a give country implicates a much broader malady plaguing the western world were borders and ethnicity define who is and who is not family.  Track 2, “Skeleton”, follows with a rich bass and angular guitar tone reminiscent of 90’s bands from the Pacific Northwest. It’s efficient minute forty-nine in length recalls the oft overlooked Team Dresch founded by notable Olympia, Washington queercore punkers Donna Dresch and Kaia Wilson.  Addressing the notion of identity politics in “Strange Ones” Jazz belts out the opening verses:

Who are you?
Who are you to say what I am

You can wear masks
Even say hi
But you’ll always be to me

The strange ones

before continuing with similar Camus inspired sentiments sung in Catalan. The tone changes slightly with “Fun At The Geysers”, a song which points out the absurdity of their embattled first label Sones Records routine behavior, this time while in Reykjavik, Iceland for a festival.  According to the band they were left alone without so much as a per diem while “the people from the record label had taken a taxi to visit the geysers without telling us. We found out because one of them posted a photo on Instagram. They payed for their excursion with the money the festival was paying us, as usual, counting it as “expenses.””  The next track “Candle Man” highlights the robust singing of all four members and Carla and Jazz in particular. The track’s cadence is slower than the preceding songs but ramps up to a crescendo before descending and fading out. The change in tenor acts as a sort of foreshadowing of the closure of side one which comes in the form of the haunting but beautiful “Orange”.  Should you close your eyes while listening, you may picture Jazz’s vocals dance about a domed Moorish room with nothing but her and the acoustics. Her bandmates provide the ambient sonic underpinnings before closing on Antonio’s final drum fill.

Side B launches right back into firing lyrical shots at Sones with minor tones and rawboned guitar licks anchored by the thumping bass lines from Jazz’s kid sister Leia.  There is no let up in angularity with the next track “Thank You For Coming Over” but the familiar pop hooks from Side A begin to creep back in with “Bye, Imbecile!”. As the momentum builds and velocity reaches a fever pitch Jazz and Carla reel the in the audience with a sonorus chorus of:

Hours complaining
Demanding me to stand still
And I want nothing in the morning
And nothing in the night

Nothing to do, nothing to tell
Nothing to worry about

Tracks 10 and 11, “Divorce” and “Epilogue” respectively, contribute to the quartet’s potent sonic cocktail until the dawn fades on the album with its final track, “Sun”.  In what feels like their most identifiable homage, the melancholy of “Sun”, both in it’s lyrics and emo styled music recall the Rising Tide era of Sunny Day Real Estate.  In what is my only attempt at a potentially negative critique of this impressive album, I find I am simply left thinking how much I love Sunny Day Real Estate too. These kids from Catalonia are the next wave of meaningful and gutsy rock music, so don’t sleep on Mourn or you’ll regret doing so.

Rating: 8.1/10

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