It might sound weird to those who don’t know the band (yet) but, with their debut full-length album Negative Qualities, Single Mothers have proven they’re THE SINGLE GREATEST NEW HOPE for hardcore punk. Over the last few years, the rise of bands like Fucked Up and Trash Talk coupled with the decline of groups including Rise Against and Against Me! left the sense that hardcore was quickly becoming a tame and collegiate wasteland populated by competent players who were happy to make perfectly measured music. While some of the older bands still have the right idea (see OFF! and NOFX – some of the time), the new breed didn’t take long to begin sinking under the weight of their own ambition and desire to reinvent the wheel with a post-modern tread. This need to find a new way to play an old sound and so throwing everything against the wall to see what might stick was growing tedious but, happily, Single Mothers have come along with Negative Qualities and revived the idea that it is the music which matters – not the image cultivated to present it – and breathed some new and true life back into hardcore with it.
Any listener wise enough to know the difference will be able to recognize how good this sounds stacked next to all the stuff which has been pretending to be hardcore for the last decade. They’ll feel their adrenaline begin to rise as Mike Peterson’s guitar rips out from nowhere to color “Overdose” and bounce as though in a panic off of the drums and bass supplied by Evan Redsky and Brandon Jagersky. The energy is fantastic and frenetic but, when singer Drew Thomson steps in and begins stirring up some pretty harrowing, disjointed darkness, that’s when it becomes palpable. Lines like “I overdoed on self-destruction/ Woke up with a bad reputation/ You called this home/ Now you call it a basement/ Callin’ mom from the police station” play out a perfect scene of growing up and out of a youth gone wrong, but everything’s still not alright; the emotional scars have not yet faded for the adult yet and the memories of it color his present. His unhinged and raw vocal performance is perfect for articulating an imperfect situation, and that unmistakable honesty will have listeners hooked hard. Before listeners have even a minute to compose themselves after the experience of “Overdose,” Single Mothers drive the advantage and keep them perfectly off-balance so that they have no choice to hold on for dear life through “Marbles.” Again, the crushing assault perpetrated by the band is lined with candor, anger and frustration (the ennui and annoyance in lines like “I don’t care about these punctuation/ Puncture wounds you’ve been/ Trying to inflict me with/ ‘Cause I’m a hypocrite/ And I’m okay with it/ I’m so self-aware that it’s crippling” is fantastic) and, in an odd way, that consistency makes it easy to fall under Single Mothers’ spell and really start to identify with them; they’re angry, so listeners will begin to feel their eyes get harder and narrower too – and it begins to feel a little life-changing.
As the album continues, Single Mothers don’t bother giving listeners even an inch of reprieve as they just keep charging through songs like “Womb” (which is all of fifty seconds long), the overtly “pissed off, everyone’s responsible and no one is safe” indictment “Half-Lit,” “Crooks” (which might be the best Black Flag song that Black Flag never wrote) and the Trail-Of-Dead-on-PCP blast of “Ketamine” in genuine blitzkrieg fashion. It’s an awesome run, but also an impressive one: on each of those tracks, Single Mothers start at a run and never slow down, but they don’t rely on that speed as the only thing that lets these songs get over. The lyric sheets (each song keeps true to the quality of the samples above) were obviously very meticulously composed in spite of the power they were imbued with upon presentation, and digging in reveals excellent elements of outsider poetry and imagery which is both shockingly dark and shockingly refined. That they all appear on the band’s debut album makes an impressive statement about their maturity and how seriously they take what they’re doing.
Taking the nature of what Single Mothers have presented on Negative Qualities into account, one can’t help but wonder what they’ll be capable of if they make more albums. There is usually a glass ceiling which divides punk from the rest of the pop spectrum (presumably installed for everyone’s protection), but some artists have been able to smash through before over the years and really help to effect change. Single Mothers most definitely have the power and vision to effect that kind of change and they obviously only know one speed at which to move – so it’s entirely possible that Negative Qualities will be album which shatters the glass ceiling again, renews punk, diverts pop into a new direction again and inspires a whole lot of new and exciting change. It’ll be interesting to see if that proves to be true and how everything unfolds around this album.
(Dine Alone/HXC Recordings/XL Recordings)