Most good punk bands assault listeners with both their words and their music, but it’s instructive to note which punch they try to hit first. For a group like Toronto’s METZ, pure, sound is pretty much the point. Alex Edkins ripped-throat screaming isn’t completely engulfed by his band’s extra-loud feedback ringing into space, but it’s clear that they made a conscious choice to prioritize the overall sound over any individual lyric. Their anger is deeply felt rather than deliberately articulated. Then there’s Single Mothers, based just a slushy two-hour drive away in London, Ontario, always leading with their verbal jabs.
Single Mothers’ debut, Negative Qualities, is mixed to let you hear the full range of singer Drew Thompson’s pissed-off utterances. With every track, he makes a fine show of discontent, indiscriminately spraying shit-talk as he spins. How much you appreciate the gesture will likely determine your feeling towards the band. As “Marbles” takes a self-righteous flamethrower to literary pretensions, declaring war on long-winded thesis regurgitations at the local bar, it seems he only wants the quiet so he can fill it himself. But the double standard doesn’t necessarily imply delusion. “I’m a hypocrite, and I’m OK with it, and I’m so self-aware that it’s crippling” he’ll go on to repeat. (As blasts against higher education go, it’s at least more credible than Jaden Smith’s.) “Patricide” lashes out at the almighty herself, with Thomson bleating, “I need God about as much as she needs me,” like a mall-punk newly convinced of his lack
While the album’s full-throttle approach does suggest an obvious hardcore influence, the degree to which Single Mothers are a traditional hardcore band has been slightly overstated. They’re actually better when dabbling with hooky alt-rock. The bubble-grunge crunch of “Half-Lit” sets off Thomson’s drug-sick poetic streak, “That night I fell into the pharmacy, I thought I was in a lucid dream…” “Feel Shame” slows down a little, aiming for a Nirvana-style sarcastic spleen-vent but landing short, somewhere just past early-00s blip The Vines. It’s funnier and much more articulate than those Aussie lunks were. (Sonically, the comparison ins’t as much of a diss as you might think.) Basic prettiness is never their primary concern, but album closer “Money,” carries an offhand, wheezy melody anyway.
Ultimately, the record is more like a sweaty basement show than a headphones experience that carefully unwinds. There’s not much differentiation from song to song, except the fleeting target of Thomson’s pique. But it’s only 26 minutes long and on full blast from the start. Like a treadmill sprint, it leaves you exhausted but equally exhilarated by the time it sputters out. While that might give Negative Qualities a limited shelf life, it bodes well for a single night spent with Single Mothers.
Single Mothers play Baby’s All Right with Show Me the Body and Basic Bitches on December 5; tickets are $10 advance, $12 day of.