Are You My Mother?
File Under Music
Kathryn Calder is perhaps best known as the other female in the Canadian alternapop supergroup The New Pornographers. The niece of head Pornographer A.C. Newman, she was originally brought on board in 2005 as a live replacement for Neko Case when Case’s busy solo career didn’t allow her to tour with the band. Calder and her other band Immaculate Machine also opened dates for the Pornographers a few tours back.
Are You My Mother? takes its name from the children’s book and was recorded as Calder was caring for her ailing mother, who was dying from Lou Gehrig’s disease. It’s a lovely, low-key, homemade-sounding record with often intricately arranged multi-tracked vocals.
Opening track “Slip Away” sets the tone nicely with Calder’s beautiful vocals bringing to mind Feist or Imogen Heap. The poetry of her lyrics expresses the dread of what she knows is coming.
“Quietly as autumn comes, the days are getting shorter, one by one,” she sings.
Once the song kicks in, the sound is pure New Pornographers. Other members of the band including Case, drummer Kurt Dahle and guitarist Todd Fancey, help out on several tracks here, as do members of Ladyhawke and Frog Eyes.
The ultra-cool, laid back “Follow Me Into the Hills” wouldn’t sound out of place on one of Uncle A.C.’s solo discs (he somewhat curiously doesn’t turn up on the disc), except perhaps for the mandolin solo, provided by Paul Rigby, a frequent collaborator on Case’s solo work.
But elsewhere Calder continually produces unexpected arrangements. The buzzy “Castor and Pollux” and driving “Day Long Past Its Prime” both reside in a different pop universe from the NPs, just up the street from late period Belle and Sebastian.
“Give my misery a place to rest, then let me rest in peace at last,” she sings on the latter.
“If You Only Knew” with its gang sing-along, hand claps and lazy percussion and “So Easily” with its outdoor sounds and lo-fi acoustic guitar are more sparse by comparison. But the multi-tracked vocals are no less meticulous and the overall effect no less charming.
The set-concluding “All It Is,” another Feist-like number, for all its stream of consciousness lyrics, is still unexpectedly haunting until it kicks in towards the end.
And then after a short ten songs, it’s over, fading away like an elusive dream. On Are You My Mother? Calder shows she has learned much from working with Uncle A.C. and the rest of the New Pornographers but she also demonstrates she has her own unique voice. The accomplishment and the promise exhibited here reveal an artist destined to be much more than an understudy. And despite its subject matter and what must have been a difficult time during which it was being recorded, this is ultimately a comforting record. Mom would be proud.
Kathryn Calder: www.myspace.com/kathryncalder