On October 7th, London, Ontario’s Single Mothers will release their debut LP Negative Qualities for XL imprint Hot Charity. As suggested in their bio, the album barely made it to press – Single Mothers “ran through a dozen members before finally recording”, and a blurb on the group’s Bandcamp page suggests the band “broke up in 2009 – and have been playing shows ever since”. These ‘milestones’ are self-effacing, and a good setup for the band’s sense of humour. Musically, there are nods to early Dischord/SST hardcore acts, but where Single Mothers manage to rise above their peers are their lyrics.
Reviews of earlier EPs and press leading up to Negative Qualities often compared lead singer Drew Thornson’s vocal form to The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn. While Thornson certainly does share a similar delivery to Finn, his lyrics are not character-driven or teetering on nostalgia. Negative Qualities is filled with bile, and Thornson is the perfect delivery man. Take, for example, the 50 second burst of defeat on “Womb” – lyrics describe how he “miscalculated the chances, got attracted by all these distractions” and “falling apart as I’m falling behind”. Thornson is able to draw listeners in through equal parts self-deprecation and externalized anger, and the way he balances the two is an accomplishment. On “Bookends”, Thornson takes up the fight with academic pseudo-intellectuals – “your bookshelf doesn’t impress me – I don’t care about your first editions, I don’t care about your typewriter ribbons”. At the same time, Thornson realizes how easily he could fall into the same category – “I’m a hypocrite and I’m ok with it, and I’m so self-aware that it’s crippling – at least I don’t pretend my whole life’s held together by bookends”.
One less obvious reference point that I picked up on is Ronhert Park-era Ceremony. There are a lot of comparisons to be made: both bands are as intellectual as they are aggressive, with a shared disdain for small town suburbia. Both bands take decades-old hardcore/powerviolence tropes and manipulate them to the point that they exceed those genre’s inherent boneheadedness, becoming highbrow. On their most recent release, Ceremony made a complete stylistic shift, and cut the tempos in half while retaining the bitterness that made them exciting in the first place. Negative Qualities is a consistently impressive debut, and if Single Mothers are able to take chances and evolve musically, they can only get better.