A lifelong struggle with anxiety has culminated in the release of Mother Of, which seems suited to our times. The “mother” is the universe, all of us children in her womb. And so as the album begins with the sound of children, their screams might be heard as sounds of terror or of play, depending on the listener: a pairing of opposites that reflects Reid Willis‘ own journey. Is the universe terrifying or comforting? The answer is both; the follow-up question is, which one dominates? As the children continue to shout between the tracks, one empathizes with their cries; we are all struggling these days.
As one might expect from the Mesh label, the beats are huge, the mastering pristine. But there’s a more intellectual touch to these compositions. “Finger to Pulse” ricochets vocal fragments across banks of strings, where modern composition is a primary influence. As a pianist, Willis straddles two realms, an additional metaphor for the release. The frequent stop-and-start of the beats is the artist’s best repeated trick, apparent in multiple tracks; but the album’s sonic power is its strength. The shift to music box and piano in the subsequent track is unexpectedly smooth. “The Ocean Won’t Allow” exhales foghorn blasts along with sonic squiggles that wander speaker-to-speaker like untamed thoughts. If anxiety is the enemy, here it often seems like a familiar friend.
The battle is not fought alone. In “Helix Flecks,” a choir visits for the first time, along with an acoustic guitar. When set against the bubbling synth and snarling percussion, the result is not bloodshed, but integration. In such tracks we begin to hear the reconciliation of emotions, the progress of a lifetime, making peace with ghosts. Willis writes, “As I age and grow, I’m learning how to face and control my own response to the unknown.” Willis wrestles large emotions into small sonic spaces. “Helix Flecks” ends with an irregular heartbeat, toppling into birdsong on “Memory Ribbons,” which ends in strings and rain. One is never far from beauty or chaos.
The album’s closing triptych underlines the mental trajectory. “The Separator” is Mother Of‘s most aggressive, IDM-laced piece. A flutter of wings becomes a flock as the sampled choir returns like a hive, building to a grand conclusion. Then the title track starts with a light bomb, falls silent and struggles to its feet. “A Home In the Void” provides the album’s poignant, final twist. A faint voice declares, “I’ll miss this. I’ll miss everything.” The wistful narrator wants to hang on to health, to hope, to life. The electronics swirl to a morass, foreshadowed on “She Planted Stars At Her Feet,” recalling the finale of Ólafur Arnalds’ Eulogy for Evolution (“3704/3837”). Suddenly the music is over. Will you let anxiety rule your life, or fight tooth and nail for equilibrium? (Richard Allen)