There’s a whole string of little surprises as you listen to the self-titled debut album from Pete Bosack and Tommy Franzen’s latest project, Mothertapes. Although they’ve spent several years working together in various forms, it was the departure of the bassist from their band ‘Wax Fingers’ that led them back to existing as a duo and making the decision to start something new. And boy, they’ve risen quite the synthed-up phoenix from those ashes.
The first surprise is that they are “just” a twosome as the funky layers of synth, percussion and guitars give the impression of a larger group, and this vast sound remains throughout much of the album – hinting at the likes of what Tears For Fears were achieving in the 80s, but with all the perks of modern production and technology.
Opener ‘DoMakeSay’ is a fine start to the album, sparking interest within seconds as the jangling plucked strings are joined by bassy synths and Bosack’s vocals (which, here, are an uncanny twin of Peter Cetera’s – keeping up that 80s vibe). It deals frequent hooks with aplomb, providing from the outset a perfect example of synth pop-rock done incredibly well.
This craft continues, and ‘Aftermath’ moves into territory that was once taken up by MGMT. The nostalgic and thoughtful lyrics are delivered with pathos, but wrapped up in an enjoyable swirl of sound. It keeps up the pattern but is also suitably different, and the heavy guitars as it comes to a close is an unexpected moment.
Mothertapes carries on providing the surprises. ‘Debts/Bets’ repeatedly switches tone across false-endings and energetic drumming, and the vocals are also stylistically dissimilar to what has come before with a delivery reminiscent of Reverend & The Maker’s John McClure. ‘Carrot Stick’ sticks with this unintentional homage to Sheffield by providing the kind of frantic guitar-driven track we might have expected from Arctic Monkeys in the mid 2000s. It descends into a weighty reverberation which ‘Not At All So Much Like’ picks up briefly, and then throws aside to take us on a rather more different journey instead: a short but dreamy instrumental of swelling synth. Blade Runner, anyone?
Aside from the vocoder of ‘Gravity Wins’, most of the album’s centre is voiceless, but returns in full for the final two tracks: ‘War Song’ with its greater allegiance to rock than any of the preceding songs, and the tragic ’12 Step’ which suddenly halts to make way for peculiar noises and sound effects, bringing the record to a close.
Explored separately, the latter part of Mothertapes can easily feel like it lacks the inventiveness of its partner; those initial tracks build high expectations for the finale which doesn’t deliver in quite the same way. However, there’s a cohesive quality to the album that really only shines when taken as a whole, with each track progressing perfectly into the next – introducing new sounds without conflict.
Despite all the comparisons that can be made and inspirations that can be assumed, there’s no denying that Mothertapes have stepped forward with precision, unique style, and a cluster of welcome surprises. This is a phoenix that deserves to thrive.