Sound — 9
For the uninitiated, Mother's Cake are a 3 piece hailing from Austria, Europe (Earth) and "No Rhyme No Reason" (NRNR) is their third full-length album. Following their early releases, the band have crafted a readily identifiable sound of their own - whilst still bearing some similarities to their idols: Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Mars Volta and Led Zeppelin. My sources tell me that most fans view "Off The Beaten Track" (OTBT) as the band's defining moment. A live studio recorded reimagining of their early album tracks, it combines the energy and intrigue of their live set with production values that simply can't be achieved outside of the studio.
Against the benchmark set by "OTBT," "NRNR" first appears to be less of a musicians' album, with a leaning towards simpler grooves, prominent vocals and restraint from the band in general. Yes, the boys seem to have pulled the classic alternative/prog/metal band gag of toning down the ambitious musicianship which made them successful in the first place...
However, in place of elaborate jams and odd time signatures, the album is full of carefully crafted songs which often benefit from this restraint. I know "danceable" is probably a taboo word on UG, but these songs groove and throw out some party vibes which are often the polar opposite of prog-rock. The vocals have a sing a long quality throughout the album, in contrast to their early tunes where they held only a peripheral space alongside howling guitar licks. Whilst the guitars are more minimalistic, Yves still lays down fat riffs and carefully intertwines embellishments with his singing. "H8" and "The Sun" are two standouts in this regard.
Having seen them live last week, the "NRNR" tracks seamlessly slot into the live set alongside lengthy staples like "Soul Prison" and "Runaway." The shorter, punchier tracks such as lead single, "The Killer" make the band far more accessible to punters unfamiliar with the back catalogue, or non-musicians who might find a set chock full of 9 minute jams cumbersome and self-indulgent. Queue ass-shaking and sing-a-long choruses aplenty.
This is not to say the album does not feature any lengthier tracks. "Streetja Man" clocks in at 9:58 and features a sparse interlude which is followed by a distinctly Mars Volta-esque jam. The sombre intro and reggae feel in "Enemy" is one of the mellowest parts of the album, but still manages to build into a massive outro. Closers "Hide & Seek" and "Isolation" throw in some space rock vibes and riffs reminiscent of Muse's glory days.
Its no surprise rhythm section Jan and Benny (drums and bass) are big RHCP fans. They bide most of their time on "NRNR" firmly (or loosely as the songs demand) in the pocket, but do it with such great feel and finesse. Although lightly spread throughout, there's still ample proof of their instrumental chops. Coupled with the production which adds some real '70s vibes to the drum sound, the album strikes a balance between new and old which feels fresh, yet strangely familiar.
Lyrics — 7
As previously alluded to, vocals have not traditionally been Mother's Cake's drawcard and lyrics even less so. I cant help but feel this is due to the double whammy of starting life very much as a band of musicians' musicians writing in English, a second language for the band members. On "NRNR," its obvious the band has grown a lot in this area. Vocals now take centre stage for much of the album and the lyrics are more eloquent and engaging. Admittedly, the band did mention on Facebook that there was some external influence on the writing from outside producers. Nevertheless, I'll forgive them given their Austrian heritage.
Singer/guitarist Yves does have a strong set of pipes though, and his high range clearly cuts through the mix when pushed. If he ever wants to fully dedicate himself to guitaring, I reckon Rob Harvey (formerly of 'the Music') would be an almost like for like replacement.
Ultimately, it's the interplay of the guitar and vocals which is a highlight. The ability of Yves to deliver a solid vocal performance over the top of intricate passages of picking, lead fills and staccato'd chords is impressive, even moreso when recreated live as a 3 piece. There's also some welcome additions of backing vocals from drummer Jan which add presence to the songs and again - are comfortably replicated live.
Overall Impression — 8
No doubt there will be some long time fans who find "NRNR" underwhelming. Rather than demonstrating an ever greater level of technical prowess, this album is a prime example of "growth in songwriting." If that sounds lame, then you'll probably slot into the aforementioned category. NRNR still has enough shining musical moments to elevate Mother's Cake above "just another rock band..." territory while offering greater variety and depth to the songs.
The band has successfully managed to evolve and incorporate new elements to their sound, without throwing the baby out with the bath water ala Linkin Park. Rather than outdoing their previous efforts, "NRNR" is just another piece of the puzzle... or ummm... cake, I guess, and is a solid addition to their discography and live sets.