Contemporary musicians tend to create music with positive space in mind. They fill in the boundaries of songs with vocals, percussion, instrumentation and any other tool at their disposal used to intuit emotion, thought, harmony and noise. When an artist consciously works within negative space, i.e. making the choices concerning what is absent from a particular piece of music, steady control over such a creation can become elusive.
Mother Sun, with their debut self titled EP, have altered the fundamentals of early surf pop and 1960’s AM radio by articulating beautifully dense atmospheres of ambiance and ennui. Their songs tend to materialize with an engulfing simplicity, as if they wrote them after a day at the beach on ether. Early in the EP, it becomes ruefully apparent that Mother Son exhibits an almost otherworldy ability to focus on the negative space their instruments and vocals have left behind to create songs with infinite depth. Echo, reverb, and some synth drone frequently fill in the absences after the distorted, yet oddly sunny, guitars make their exit.
These songs are about the dark days of summer, when endless expanses of heat and malaise slow life down to a sweaty slog. “Old Bones,” the EP’s first track, is the most striking portrait of a haunted and hazy summer day, starting off with lyrics slowly detailing the expansion of hours, “Counting days of the summer,/dripping pools out the windows,/counting clocks to tell us, when the reaper come home.”
The song’s eight plus minute length brings along the subtle transformation from the first act’s doomed, Sisyphus-like torture, to a slowly gathering euphoric catharsis. Full of hopeful symphonic strings and slightly melodramatic, all be it sincere, romantic realizations like “your body is a work of art” and “your eyes can melt all sense of time,” the second half illuminates an arresting, elegiac beauty.
“Phantasmagoria” immediately enters with an altogether different mood than “Old Bones”: faster percussion, progressive time signatures, shimmering acoustics and a walking bassline has the track skipping along with altruistic innocence. “Will there be music that we can dance to?” lead singer Jonathan Cordle asks quietly after the bridge, continuing “something slow that our hearts can beat together/ boom boom boom/ we dance around the room.”
These lyrics work because Mother Sun earns them, working hard to create a sonic space that welcomes sincerity and soul searching without pretentious groans. “Phantasmagoria” also soars over the eight minute mark with some spirited Sigur Ros-inspired chantings and IDM breakdowns, but manages to leave before overstaying its welcome. No song on this EP (including middle track “Time/Pipe”) stays under 5:30, but none seem to appear bloated either.
“Old Bones” and “Phantasmagoria” end exactly when they need too, maybe even a little too soon. With each song basking in layers of emotion and mood, it wasn’t easy for me to shake them off. But I have a feeling that’s exactly the point. Mother Sun enjoy pulling their songs away gracefully early, causing the gradual crash for the listener after after such lush sensory experience. After all, what is the value of the “high” if you never come down.