Synthetic soundscapes are resplendent in their murky darkness and low-rumbling tones.
Mozart’s Sister – Being
In case you were wondering, no, Being is not the work of the woman who is actually Mozart’s sister. Instead, Mozart’s Sister is the alias of Caila Thompson-Hannant, who chose her moniker because the real Mozart’s sister was an underdog and an outsider excluded by her peers. The real figure after whom Thompson-Hannant is named could have left a musical legacy as vast as her brother’s if women had been treated equally to men during their time. Thompson-Hannant feels like “a bit of a loner”, in her own words; although her comparison of this mentality to the sexism Mozart’s sister faced in her time is a bit of a stretch, it clues listeners in to the sounds and feelings pervading Being. With song titles such as “Lone Wolf”, “Do It To Myself (Run Run)”, and “Don’t Leave It To Me”, Thompson-Hannant’s debut explores loneliness in a way that makes it seem like the very essence of her, er, being.
That’s not to say that Mozart’s Sister treats loneliness with disdain. On “Lone Wolf”, she sounds incredibly excited to be “moving through the night”, as the song’s chorus puts it. “The best part about going out/is coming home alone/fuck yeah, I’m fifteen again/living out on my own,” whispers Thompson-Hannant over synths that, despite being some of the Being‘s slinkiest and nocturnal, may also be the album’s most pop-leaning. Likewise, “Do It To Myself (Run Run)” celebrates the personal freedom of not being tied down in a bad relationship, and features robotic, ominous synth work that’s fully appropriate for the topics at hand. But it’s really opener “Good Thing, Bad Thing” that cements her stance: “I like being alone alright” is one of the song’s first lyrics (and thereby one of the album’s first lines).
What ensures that Being is memorable is how precisely its instrumentals match these sentiments. Throughout the album, Thompson-Hannant crafts synthetic soundscapes that are resplendent in their murky darkness and low-rumbling tones. “Enjoy” makes its titular command easy thanks in no small part to the anxious, introverted contrast between its pitter-patter of bleak synthetic sounds and Thompson-Hannant’s pleading, oscillating voice. “A Move”, one of the quieter, more introspective tracks here, matches the album’s most Little Dragon-esque vocal performance with a slowly blossoming field of computer-built nocturne. “Bow a Kiss” especially impacts unforgettably due to its dicey, anxious darkness: the album’s least serious tune by some distance, Thompson-Hannant’s hilarious, out-of-place wails of “street boy, pussy money, pussy money!” are rendered genuine musical material by the song’s frayed, somewhat dance-centered groove. It’s a track that most obviously displays the alignment between words and music on Being: that its most whimsical song is also its most energetic and nervous is no coincidence.
Another artist who might be described as energetic, nervous, and whimsical is Thompson-Hannant’s friend and soundalike Grimes. In fact, when comparing Being to Grimes’ work, the Mozart’s Sister moniker takes on another meaning: living in the shadow of someone close to you. Being‘s main flaw, and one that Mozart’s Sister may continue to face, is that her work exists very specifically in the shadow of Grimes and the sect of art-electronic that she’s inspired since her 2012 masterpiece Visions. For example, “Salty Tear” has Thompson-Hannant focusing on her upper vocal register, filling out a minimal, slow-budding electronic instrumental with chanty, chirping, fairy-like vocals, just as Grimes is known to do. “My House Is Wild” also suffers this plague, although the strength of Thompson-Hannant’s lead vocals here allow listeners to overlook just how similar the peripheral vocal bits sound to the rest of the new art-electronic uprising. “Falf 1”, with a beat that could be a distant cousin of “Genesis”, even more deeply echoes Grimes, but also traces the steps of contemporaries Little Dragon and Santigold. It’s safe to say, then, that Being is stuck primarily in one artist’s shadow, while also briefly hiding in the shade of other established acts.
Luckily, though, Thompson-Hannant seems aware of how similar and often-done her sound is, otherwise Being would fail completely. Instead, it’s a good, but not quite great, album filled with enjoyable songs that aren’t ashamed of their flaws. It’s an interesting type of confidence, since it allows these songs to stick somewhat, yet prevents them from flowing with the uniqueness that ensures the success of truly unforgettable artists. It would be impossible to write a song as hooky and monstrous as “Bow a Kiss” if not for an extensive amount of brazenness and conviction, but Mozart’s Sister will need to improve in these departments for her future releases to stay interesting. For now, though, what we have is enough to appreciate.