THE MOMMYHEADS RETURN WITH VULNERABLE BOY, LEGENDARY INDIE ROCK BAND’S MOST AMBITIOUS WORK TO DATE
“The Mommyheads are a true indie rock national treasure.”
-Fun Fun Fun
A true indie rock national treasure. And while these are enormous words to string together, would they not be an appropriate way to describe a band with seven indie (and one major label) releases, along with a host of singles and compilation tracks spanning more than 20 years? A band that spent the 90s cris-crossing the United States, playing shows with the likes of Guided By Voices, The Posies, Cake, Unrest, Versus and Tsunami? A band that released Flying Suit and Bingham’s Hole, considered by many to be two of the greatest indie rock records of the 1990s?
The trajectory of The Mommyheads’ career has mirrored that of indie rock: explosive bursts of creativity, power and beauty in its infancy. Glowing promise, followed by a crashing letdown as a brief dance with the corporate entertainment industry in the late 90s left the band down – but certainly not out. Then, a rise from the ashes four years ago and a newfound freedom to create, unencumbered by the expectations of the industry, yielding a string of gorgeous and increasingly complex albums.
Pulling together a startlingly diverse group of influences, Vulnerable Boy is the band’s most ambitious recording since their 1989 debut. If 2008’s You’re Not A Dream (Bladen County Records) was the band’s triumphant return, then 2010’s Finest Specimens (Dromedary) was a nod to their illustrious past. 2011’s Delicate Friction saw them looking forward in ways that are now being fully explored with Vulnerable Boy in 2012.
Alternately a modern prog-rock masterpiece, a delicate collection of classical-influenced piano ballads and a string of anthemic power pop songs tied together by lush vocal harmonies, Vulnerable Boy casts a wide net. The album’s ambition is on display right from the opening track, “On a Clear Night,” where Michael Holt’s piano arpeggios are joined by guitarist Adam Elk’s sing-song vocals to form a sort of “prog-pop,” soonafter joined by the pulsing rhythm section of bassist Jason McNair and drummer Dan Fisherman. By the two-minute mark in the album’s third track, “Science and Reason,” complete with odd time signature, guitar synth and kalimba, you know this isn’t an ordinary indie rock album.
It’s the grand, sprawling strains of “Medicine Show,” though, with its dramatic hooks and crescendos, that hammer the point home: The Mommyheads are not concerned with the trends in today’s indie rock. They’re concerned with spreading their creative wings and challenging each other as musicians, the result yielding a beautiful, powerful progressive pop album.
They come from the school of luminaries like Todd Rundgren, XTC and Gentle Giant – but they grew up in the era of Pavement, Superchunk, and GBV. The latter influences are evidenced on louder tracks like “My Intruder” and “Skinny White Uptight,” while the former are peppered throughout the album, as riffs and hooks intertwine with offbeat instrumentation and time signatures, yielding an album as comfortable in a collection alongside the likes of Radiohead and Deerhoof as it is alongside early Genesis and King Crimson.
I’ve been following the Mommyheads since the early 1990s, and I’ve been fortunate enough to release four of their albums. I’ve watched old hippies dance to their boogie-oriented jams in Berkeley in 1994, and college women grooving to the funk-infused single “Work” in 2011. I was at the NYC show where they delivered a blistering performance just prior to signing with Geffen in 1996, and I was at the party for their rebirth, with the reissue of Flying Suit in Brooklyn in 2010. I saw them engage a rapt audience with a set of brand-new rock songs in Hoboken in the summer, only to follow up with an acoustic set (accompanied by a string section) in a 19th-century theater the following winter. I’ve seen the impact they have on their fans, and I’ve seen them do it consistently for more than two decades.
This is not an ordinary band. This is, indeed, an indie rock national treasure.
-Al Crisafulli, Dromedary Records
1987 – Magumbo Meat Pie 7” (Sit and Spin)
1988 – Antipop: NY Underground compilation (Fang)
1989 – Acorn (Fang)
1989 – “At The Mall” (Pulley 7”) (Simple Machines)
1991 – Live cassette (Fang)
1991 – Thirsty Ears compilation (Fang)
1992 – Coming Into Beauty (Simple Machines)
1992 – Swiss Army Knife cassette (Simple Machines)
1993 – “World Is Round”/“Remedy” 7” (Hairy/Simple Machines)
1993 – The Machines 1990-1993 compilation (Simple Machines)
1993 – They Came, They Played, They Blocked The Driveway compilation (WFMU)
1994 – Flying Suit (Dromedary)
1994 – “Time Bomb”/“Gnocci” 7” (Sonic Swirl)
1995 – Making Music Your Own 7” (You Say When)
1995 – Lemon Lime vol. 1 compilation (SpinArt)
1995 – Bingham’s Hole (Dot Dot Dash)
1996 – Listener Supported compilation (You Say When)
1996 – Come and Get It compilation (Hairy)
1996 – Greenlight Go compilation (Bottle Cap)
1996 – Eyesore: A Stab at The Residents compilation (Vaccination)
1997 – The Mommyheads (Geffen)
1998 – All Star Holiday compilation (Tarquin)
1998 – San Francisco: A Music City Compilation compilation (Trocadero)
2008 – You’re Not A Dream (Bladen County)
2010 – Flying Suit (remastered, w/additional tracks) (Dromedary)
2010 – Finest Specimens (Dromedary) [Dead Frog in Sweden]
2011 – Delicate Friction (Dromedary) [Dead Frog in Sweden]
2012 – Vulnerable Boy (Dromedary) [Dead Frog in Sweden]