It’s fun in 2021 to see the spirit and sounds of post punk wending their way into modern electronica and, in addition to their name having a sort of “Spooky Mother Goose” vibe, Mother Ghost is definitely channeling the likes of Ian Curtis and Bauhaus into their debut album, Somnámbulo. With industrial-style synths, experimental composition styles and political, evocative vocals, the album, released last month, deigns to take post punk into the 21st century. But it almost didn’t happen.
While sifting through some already heavy material such as the viscerally-titled, Trump-inspired song “Hiding in a Dumpster Waiting for ICE Agents to Leave” and the emotionally-charged “Le Petite Mort,” tragedy struck the project when James Vehslage, the producer who was working on Somnámbulo with Oscar and Thomas Flores, unexpectedly died.
The duo thought the Vehslage mixes were all but lost and resigned themselves to not release the album, but family members of James managed to get the music back to the brothers and urged them to finish it. They reached out to Geodesic Records and their producer aCr to help finish and master the album and now, after personal tragedy and COVID, Somnámbulo is out and it seems it was well worth the wait.
Don’t get us wrong: Somnámbulo is not an easy listen. It wasn’t designed to be. Even without all the Trump/COVID/personal turmoil the Flores boys have been through in the past five years or so, this album is meant to challenge listeners both sonically and emotionally. The politically almost too heavy tracks like the afore-mentioned “Hiding In a Dumpster…,” “Avarice, “Raices” and “Criminal” would, based on the music, be just as intense without the loud, often screamed vocals. Complex polyrhythms in the drums, relentless, Tom Morello-style guitars and punishing, industrial-style synths make these tracks absolute jaw-clenchers, but that’s the point. The chaos in the tracks mirrors the chaos of the Latino experience during those years. It’s meant to he conflicted, and the duo more than pull it off.
The more melodic tracks on Somnámbulo, like the title track, “Ungrateful” and “White God” also require a lot of attention from the listener, but in a different way. The tones and harmonies, all of a haunting and minor-keyed timbre, sort of pang at the heart in a way that’s not unpleasant but would never be categorized as “feel-good.” This is typical of post punk but really not since the 80s and early 90s has the genre seen this sort of blunt force heart punch as an emotive tactic. It’s heavy, strange and beautiful and it’s long overdue in modern electronica.
The story of Somnámbulo would have been a sad one if Mother Ghost had decided not to finally release it, but now it’s a tribute. Already a complex and poignant watchword of the times in which it was being made, it’s now a way to carry on James Vehslage’s work and legacy. This emotive think piece of an album helps ensure that while Bela Lugosi may be dead, post punk certainly isn’t.