Review Summary: Time to make amends
This may sound weird, but I feel weirdly nostalgic about Mourn
, despite it being days old. Part of that is my connection to the artist formerly known as Spooky Black - I have fond memories listening to Couch Potato
. But more than that is the ethos that the album evokes. This album is basically an emo record, more in the vein of Brand New or Saosin than contemporaries like Thaiboy Digital or Allan Kingdom. The result is a record that works in spite of fundamental issues and structural limitations that would make records by other artists unbearable.
Let’s start with Mourn
’s biggest issue: Corbin himself. Or at least his voice. Somewhere in the transition from Spooky Black to Corbin, he discovered his screaming voice, a ragged and barely functional tone that, while emotional, is a pain to listen to for extended periods of time. While “worn” worked because of its structure (which was a slow build to the catharsis of his pained wail), most of the tracks here presuppose our tolerance for this tone, resulting in tracks built almost entirely around Corbin’s desperately trying to hit a note.
What keeps this record from lapsing into Yung Lean territory is that the pained delivery seems function as an extension of the songwriting, which is almost uniformly bleak. There’s not a song on here that seems cleaned up to serve as a single, there’s no up-tempo diversions or saccharine love songs to keep the top 40 crowd invested. From start to finish, the record seems almost dead-set on self-abnegation and self-destruction, with the lyrics going from dark (“call me out, it’s all I ask”) to darker (“How does it feel pushing deep into your arm? Wouldn't call it self harm, yeah you swear it's how you are”) to pitch-black (“Did he touch you where you said he did?/Losing color from the thought of it/You say he knew that you were just a kid?/Want him dead that ***ing piece of ***”). It’s almost enough to make you stop listening, especially around “Revenge Song,” which tells the twisted story of two ne’er-do-wells tracking down a rapist, beating him within an inch of his life, and then shooting him to keep him from calling the police. The album is loosely conceptualized around a pair of recluses (Corbin and his never-named female companion) who decamp to the woods, only for him to die and for her to lapse into depression and die too. The narrative is poorly formed and plays a fairly minimal role in the songs (they’re all self-contained narrative exercises), but the tone of that story, its inherent hopelessness (you can never escape your problems, your loved ones will die, ***’s ***ed, etc.) colors the whole package. And Corbin’s vocals match that hopelessness, his voice always sounding like he’s on the verge of tears, a breakdown, or a fit of rage. It’s this piece that, to me, connects Mourn
to a deeper lineage of emo and post-punk records. His vocal isn’t supposed to be pretty or even really melodic. It’s a blunt instrument, used to coax maximum angst and emotion out of the listener by any means necessary. If he has to scream the chorus to “Dragged” to hammer home the despair, he will do it.
The production also evokes that cold, Midwestern emo feel. Handled jointly by D33J and Shlohmo, the sonics here convey the solitude of the north with eerie accuracy, with minor bits of aural trickery introduced to draw the listener out into the cold. The aforementioned “Revenge Song” is given an earworm of a synth-line that makes it seem almost childish, even as the subject matter delves into darker and darker territory. “Dragged” is one of the only songs here that registers a pulse, with its stilted groove making it vaguely danceable (even as Corbin sings about desperately trying to salvage a toxic and broken relationship tainted by his past). The title track is the sole concession to the “trap-&-b” crowd, with a wilting keyboard line, echoed vocals, and a tinny trap beat lending Corbin’s declaration of emotional stability a hollow feeling (if Mourn
proves anything, it’s definitely not Corbin’s emotional stability or contentment).
ultimately is a hard record to recommend. The lyrics vacillate between juvenile angst and deeply disturbing fare, the vocals are passable at best, and the production, while stunning in execution, is uniformly dark. But the niche appeal of this record is what makes it so special to me. This record feels uniquely, almost devastatingly, personal and emotive in a way that almost no records even attempt. It feels voyeuristic listening to some of these songs as they recount drug abuse, passionless sex, attempted suicide, and other horrific things. Corbin’s pained vocals lend his missives authenticity, and the production does a tremendous job of complementing the vocals and accenting the lyrics. In this way, Mourn
stands as a twisted, deeply broken triumph, one that definitely warrants attention.