Monday, April 17, 2017

Beautiful Bugs: Cool & Pretty by Mothpuppy

Kittens and puppies are cute. Moths and fleas are gross. Boys are tough; girls are pretty. Violins belong in orchestras, whereas electric guitars belong in garages. Good is good and bad is bad and everything is either one or the other.

These are the sort of pointless divisions and categorisations and over-simplifications in which Mothpuppy chew all kinds of holes on their new LP Cool & Pretty. Led by singer/guitarist Morgan Murphy, the Baltimore band revel in putting things in the wrong boxes, or even in emptying all of the boxes onto the carpet and just mixing everything together. The result is a raggedy slacker-indie album that's incongruously decorated with golden ribbons of gorgeous, mournful violin - ribbons that bring out the gorgeous, mournful side of the songs themselves. On the face of it, these songs are about drinking cranberry juice and taking out the bins, but on a deeper level, they're really about seeing the beauty in the things everyone else perceives as ugly.

Take opening track Kilgore Falls, for example. "Let's spend five dollars and go to the park," sings Murphy; "it's such a nice day outside." What will we do at the park? Admire the flowers, have a picnic, feed the ducks on the lake? Nope: "We'll count all the centipedes and dogs that pass us by!"

Centipede-spotting isn't most people's idea of an idyllic day at the park, but by putting centipedes next to dogs in the context of a springtimey 'I'm too shy to tell you how I feel' song, Morgan Murphy makes them sound less like disgusting creepy-crawlies and more like something...y'know, rad. Flea plays a similar trick - Murphy's heartbreaking lyrics ("Why'd you kill me? My body was perfect!") slot beautifully into the song's melody, and together with the keening violin and the tenderly-strummed guitar, they create a real sense of pathos that will probably make you feel really guilty the next time you squish a bug.

Mothpuppy, whether seeing perfection in the anatomy of a flea or feeling a burst of optimism on trash day, are great at finding beauty in the ugly bits of day-to-day life. They make hungover-sounding lo-fi rock music, but they use their rough 'n' ready stop-start guitar riffs to carve out shiny silver linings - on Cranberry Juice, Murphy even sings "I am the fortunate consequence of a bad situation". But they're just as good at finding the sourness hidden in the seemingly sweet.

Case in point: the album title. Cool & Pretty is named after a line in its second track, Basketball Court, a stuttering song that describes the sense of unease a young Morgan Murphy experienced upon hitting puberty and finding themself suddenly subject to a set of seemingly arbitrary new rules. "Why can't I take my shirt off on the basketball court? I wanna run around in big mesh shorts!"

Male attention is another source of unease. "Tom told me he liked a woman with meat on her bones," sings Murphy; "I think he was talking about me?" This attention manifests itself in the form of seemingly pleasant but actually rather shallow compliments:

"He told me I was cool and pretty, he told me I was 'cool' and 'pretty'...anything else? Am I anything else?"

It's nice when someone thinks you're cool and pretty, but these things aren't achievements, really, and this is where the other side of Murphy's talent shows its face: just as they can see the beauty in the gross bug, they can also taste the bitter almonds at the centre of sugar-coated compliments like these. Basketball Court (and, by extension, Cool & Pretty at large) is a plea to be judged against a taller yardstick than coolness or prettiness - intelligence, perhaps, or athleticism. Or songwriting ability.

Cool & Pretty is out now and you can get it from Mothpuppy's Bandcamp page.

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