Love In a Vicious Way out 7/21/23
(Wavy Haze Records)
Love In a Vicious Way, the reflective debut album from Toronto’s Mother Tongues, is a carefully crafted cyber-psych opus that lurks between the cerebral and feral. At moments, precious and serene; in a blink, snarling, teeth razor-sharp. Its 10 songs about love, longing, desire, and identity are charged with a sincerity and teenage sentimentalism that captures a time when everything was crucial and felt tenfold. Love In A Vicious Way sees the band carving out a space for themselves: they are world-building. Like some rare bird mimicking the machines at the edge of the forest, the album echoes the beauty, darkness, and weight of life in these ever-changing times. “It’s an exploration of the darker ways we love, the parts with teeth,” says guitarist/vocalist Lukas Cheung, explaining the record’s title. “It possesses you, it’s a pit you fall into. Love overtakes you, this record is about surrendering to that feeling.”
The pulse of Mother Tongues is the friendship and creative partnership between Cheung and vocalist/bassist Charise Aragoza, who met a decade ago in a Chinatown garage turned DIY punk venue. “Char and I are both children of immigrants, a factor that has a huge impact on your entire life. You’re confronted with the need to constantly justify your existence, and this permeates into every aspect of your life–including how you create. I’ve been trying to see this as less of an obstacle and more as something that charges your work with an intensity and urgency that otherwise might not be possible,” says Cheung. “We’ve never looked like the kids in the magazines so we couldn’t get away with being derivative or a rehash. When you grow up not quite fitting into any space, you end up carving out your own. In many ways that’s what this record is. With the sound, we’ve created this atmosphere and emotional plane where we can exist. We’re peering into the future and imagining what this world could be.”
While Aragoza is no stranger to the stage–having wet her feet performing in Luna Li and touring alongside acts such as Japanese Breakfast and Beabadoobee–Mother Tongues sees her stepping into the role of singer and front person for the first time. “I’ve always had one foot in the door as a dancer and backup singer for years. On some level I wanted to be up in front, but some barrier always kept me from putting myself totally out there. Playing with other groups was my way of easing into things and building confidence,” Aragoza recalls. “You could say my imposter syndrome was too real for too long, which is something I will freely admit I continue to wrestle with. I’m recognizing it’s a symptom of my experience and what I’ve been up against: getting by in an overpriced city, intimidation in a male-dominated industry, immigrant parents who had different plans for how I would ‘succeed’ in this world. But you have this spark inside you that ultimately leads you to seek out safe spaces, safe people, and I’m also trying to create that for others. I recognize the power in representing my identities and experiences onstage.”
Writing Love In A Vicious Way was a back and forth dialogue between Cheung and Aragoza, a process that verged on telepathy. “I wrote these songs with Char’s voice in mind, no one else could really sing them–in a musical sense, but also because I feel it’s our history and closeness that allows her to carry these stories,” explains Cheung. The album takes Mother Tongues’ propensity for rich atmospherics and cinematic arrangements to stratospheric heights, riding thundering, totalizing waves of angsty alt-rock, interstellar psychedelia, dream-pop-noir, and touches of ‘90s breakbeat and electronica.
Leading the herd is “A Heart Beating.” A goth dream-pop rocker, the song sonically splits the difference between Alvvays and The Cure; the verses speak to how we can find ourselves lost in feedback loops of regret and longing, while the chorus is a hypnotic, repeating response that calls you back into your body (“A heart beating, inside an animal”). Lush, emotionally-driven, and bookended by a massive guitar riff, “Dance In The Dark” follows, across which Aragoza challenges monogamy, instead exploring alternative ways we can reconcile with sex and romance. “It allowed me to confront my own attitudes and traumas around these topics,” she explains. “Worm Day” is a glossy pop track about compulsion and the incessant thoughts that tunnel their way into our brains–its heartfelt hooks leaving listeners nostalgic and beguiled–and “Only You” is a cyber-goth anthem, conjuring strobe lights, latex, and a breakbeat ripped from some sedated mid-’90s corner.
Cheung co-produced Love In A Vicious Way alongside Asher Gould-Murtagh (Born Ruffians, Kali Horse), with bed tracks recorded at Marquee Sound–where the two spent hours obsessing over the crystalline, high-fidelity production aesthetics of ‘90s on records by artists like Air or Björk–before finishing at Montreal’s Studio Toute Garnie. “While lo-fi production has been in vogue, we were chasing something else. Asher and I would joke that we were trying to make a million dollar record on nothing,” says Cheung. Cheung and Aragoza are joined on the album by Kvesche Bijons-Ebacher (synths), Lane Halley (guitar), and Nick Kervin (drums), who have played with artists like Lido Pimienta, Maylee Todd, and Zoon.
Love In A Vicious Way ultimately showcases a young band building a musical world that reflects their own unique experience, and extending an invitation to others. “We’re peering into the future and imagining what this world could be. It’s a little William Gibson, a little cyberpunk, it’s lit like a Wong-Kar-Wai film. It’s queer, it’s free, a little goth, everyone’s wearing eyeliner,” Cheung laughs. “I like to imagine our record bleeding out of the headphones of some 16-year-old in this not-so-distant universe.”