Combining psychedelics with whimsical theatrical tracks and classic rock bass lines, Caleb Landry Jones' debut album ‘The Mother Stone’ is a unique listening experience.
The Twin Peaks and X-Men star switched the big screen for a recording studio to create an hour-long 15-track pop-rock orchestra. Although Jones is known foremost as an actor, he’s been a musician since he was sixteen, but it wasn’t until a crucial meeting with indie director Jim Jarmusch that Jones was able to turn his back catalog of 700 songs into a full-fledged album. Sorting through old music, Jones was able to create an album that reads like a book, filled with unpredictable chapters and stories.
‘Flag Day / Mother Stone’ offers a brassy and melodramatic seven-minute introduction to the album, letting listeners get a grip on what to expect. The song is genre-bending, to say the least. There are elements of Arctic Monkey’s ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’ and The Beatles’ haunting tune ‘Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite!’, but there’s also a nightmarish and circus quality to the track, with sharp strings and steady drumbeats. Is the song something that’s going to be on a Spotify weekly playlist? The simple answer is no. But the track is imaginative and obscure, just like the rest of the album, twisting and turning with each note.
Each track fades into the rest, giving the record a lucid and musical-like quality, weaving together a complex story. The heavy influences of The Beatles’ ‘White Album’ and Syd Barrett’s solo work are evident throughout the record, but mostly on the second track, ‘You’re So Wonderfull.’ “Welcome to the show,” Jones croons on another seven-minute track. The song is eerie, giving off a ‘Rocky Horror’-vibe, but still indulgent. Switching between piano, wobbly bass - and wait, is that a tambourine? - and keys, there’s little that’s not included in the track. It’s hard to believe it’s only Jones singing, as his voice changes its tone nearly every minute, from tender crooning to forced bursts of laughter and slight screamo, making it the most expressive and narrative tune on the record.
‘All I Am In You / The Big Worm’ leans into classic psychedelic rock. Starting with a simple bassline, the track was inspired by Dale Hawkins’ ‘Susie Q,’ but Jones adds his own twist with somber lyrics and dark undertones. The song transitions unexpectedly to ambient, experimental sounds. The track, like the lyrics, is puzzling. “He takes a light rag / And drags across the broom / Just like a fruit worm,” is how Jones opens the song. The track is interesting, but combines too many elements and tries too hard to be something it's not that it comes across as messy.
Let’s be clear: Jones isn’t trying to be the next Beatles or Led Zepplin, but the album is a bit of a guessing game of “which classic artist inspired this track?” In an attempt to transcend earthly-bounds, Jones tries to fit everything in at once. The album is cohesive, yes, but falls a victim to imposter syndrome.
That being said, the record is refreshing. In a world of autotune and formulaic singles, Jones’s music is raw and vulnerable. Jones’ slow-burn ballad ‘For The Longest Time,’ is a soft symphony with drawn-out vocals and harmonies, as he repeats “space amounts to sleep." The track combines fewer elements than the other songs, but that doesn’t make it dull. Jones’ voice is mesmerising, and the more subdued tune is much needed on the rock-heavy record.
‘The Hodge-Podge Porridge Poke’ is a funny number, with a 50’s rhythm and Southern twang, complete with light banjo strumming. It’s country Western at its core, with shaky vocals that slowly transition to grittiness as the track turns psychedelic. Elsewhere, ‘No Where’s Where Nothing’s Died (A Marvelous Plan)’ includes organ playing and scatty jazz notes to build to a crescendo. There’s ambient noise adding padding to the tune while keyboards bring texture. The track sounds like a farewell, a song that would be performed as the curtains draw together, but it only signifies that the record is coming to a close soon.
A piano reprises the familiar ‘Flag Day / Mother Stone’ track, but this time electronic guitar shreds over it in the closing number, ‘Little Planet Pig.’ More instruments are added, and suddenly in a computer overload-like event, it sounds like glitches and scratches. It fades, and the song is left with a chorus singing against the carnival-like tune. As the track fades away, listeners are released from the hypnotising, eclectic record.
‘The Mother Stone’ is unlike anything else out in music right now. It’s risky and at times, clumsy, but overall, effective. The record is fun and isn’t afraid to be weird - it’s evident Jones was passionate about the project and that it wasn’t just a second thought. While it won’t be played on Radio 1 anytime soon, listening to the album is artistic at its core, and more so, a cathartic and worthwhile experience.
Words: Caroline Edwards
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