Where does one start with an album such as The Mother Stone from actor Caleb Landry Jones?
I guess I could explain how I stumbled upon it. Simply enough, I was browsing my Spotify Discover Weekly playlist, and stumbled upon a song called “Flag Day / The Mother Stone” which featured the grotesque artwork you’re probably uncomfortably staring at. The song quickly sank its hooks in me with its absurd circus overtones, brisk tempo changes done in slow-motion, and undeniable frontman charisma. Soon enough, I was listening to the entire album, scratching my head at was I was listening to. Was I listening to a mad man, a genius?
In order to help answer this question, I wanted to know the current consensus of the music press about this album. Many publications, such as pitchfork.com, seemed to be slightly torn about the album. While the reviewers found it interesting, they couldn’t understand what the artist was trying to communicate. The songs sound great, but none are memorable. The theatrics are engaging, but the lyrics are nonsensical. Above all, the album was deemed too long for its own good.
While I certainly agree that the album is far from perfect, I believe I caught a glimpse of what Caleb was trying to do through this album. In short, The Mother Stone feels like a perfect fusion of The Beatles' White Album with King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard’s Nonagon Infinity. A perfectly psychedelic rock medley that has a beginning but no end. Caleb himself states that he wanted to make the album one long song, probably not unlike what Jethro Tull did with Thick as a Brick. Indeed, the album plays seemlessly from front to back, with the added quality of having a completely ambiguous ending. Thus, playing the full album on repeat, you’d never be able to guess where the album ends and where it begins, unless you had already listened to its over four times. Despite feeling like walking through molasses, the album manages to constantly throw surprises at you.
I can’t imagine how deceptively difficult it must be to perform this album: playing it live, with no breaks, would certainly feel like walking on a tight rope.
In conclusion, I think Caleb Landry Jones is neither a mad man, nor a genius. I believe he is a sensitive soul that mirrors the absurdity of our current existence, without any apology. The music is complex without ever moving faster than a walking pace. Some dissonances and hard riffs are to be expected, but they are often balanced by genuine moments of unstable peace and tranquility. This is an album that is not ashamed of the sound of its breathing. It is honestly beautiful to see the level of acceptance Caleb granted himself on his first album. While not everything is fresh or new, it is all done from an honest perspective meant to reward patient listeners.