Critics are having a field day with Mothers' new album, Render Another Ugly Method. Maybe it's because frontwoman Kristine Leschper has amassed a sprawling collection of avant-garde rock instead of sticking with quiet folk music, as she did on 2016's When You Walk a Long Distance You Are Tired. Maybe it's because Render Another Ugly Method addresses difficult subjects: power, consent, privilege, religion and the complexity of the female body.
Whatever it is, many reviewers seem agitated – even angry – by Leschper's creative leap. A few of my favorite turns of phrase used to describe Render Another Ugly Method include "calcified misery," "opaque funeral shrouds" and "an unsettling discombobulation of tempos, dynamics, and monotonous droning." Here's the thing: To our ears, the record is a beautiful, ramshackle delight. Effortlessly referencing the Elephant 6 influences that Leschper picked up during a long stint living in Athens, Georgia, Render also sprinkles in propulsive post-punk, surreal psychedelia and visceral art-pop. As to the meaning of the album's 11 songs, Leschper wrote a thesis statement detailing the album's motivation, and included a clear-as-day lyric sheet to accompany it.
Still, Leschper was extra judicious discussing responses to the record. "I've been really pleased with what I consider thoughtful reviews that have taken time to digest what's going on," Leschper tells Orlando Weekly. "They've been very honest, and I have similar criticisms with the record: It's quite cumbersome, dark, scattered and fragmented, with a very long run time. It's hard to latch on for the whole ride."
That reflects Render Another Ugly Method's creation: two years of stop-start, staccato bursts of writing by Leschper, with songs rewritten, reworked and eventually rearranged with her longtime collaborator Matthew Anderegg. Once they went into the studio with bandmates Drew Kirby and Chris Goggans and producer John Congleton, the album spread its fragmented tentacles even further. "There was a lot of push and pull with time signatures and sounds," Leschper says. "For example, on 'Mother and Wife,' I created this textural guitar drone that very specifically references Fred Frith by using a paintbrush to gently vibrate the strings. Fred's work really opened up my mind to what a guitar – any instrument, really – could do and be."
Set aside for a moment that compelling instrumentation and let's talk about Render Another Ugly Method's lyrics. As an accomplished visual artist and poet, Leschper's words paint devastating, exactingly crafted pictures. "Baptist Trauma" builds its narrative out of words that construct an acronym for the title; "Beauty Routine" begs the world to "Show me a beauty routine/To erase me completely." Physicality reigns throughout: Characters "Spit straight from the mouth of/A modern blame kit" and "Touch two fingers to your stomach," while "God's hands around your neck" are there not to frighten but to please: "But mostly he was making you come."
"I've always been attracted to very visceral lyrics," Leschper says. "The gesture of benediction [by] Christ is a kind of two-finger salute, and I was trying to apply that to this very intimate vignette." Though she didn't grow up with religion, Leschper says she's still fascinated by its pursuit of purity. "I'm really interested in the idea of sacred space," she says, "that things are untouchable – totally pure and perfect – and that those themes can be applied to the person and the body. Intimacy can be a very religious experience."
Critics of Render Another Ugly Method again stumble by assuming these narratives are autobiographical when Leschper emphasizes her examination of such subjects from an observational distance. "Last year, I experienced this 'a-ha!' moment where I realized I wanted to be more of an observer," she says. "I wanted to try and put myself on the sidelines – to observe mundane moments so clearly and concisely that you can be transported to that space."
In other words, although Render Another Ugly Method presents a defiant challenge to some listeners, in 10, 20 or 30 years, we might look back on it as a generational masterpiece – an assertion Leschper studiously avoids. "As an artist, when you put something out, it's rare that you think it's flawless," she says. "That's why the band and I have been reimagining the songs for live performances. I need to get outside the music a little bit to have more perspective on it." See for yourself this weekend.