California has a long history of giving birth to pop vocal groups with intricate harmonies: the Beach Boys, the Mamas and the Papas, and the Byrds all came from the land of sun and silicone. Carrying on this tradition (although not as masterfully) are The Mother Hips. The eclectic band has been labeled as “California soul,” an emerging genre that combines pop-rock sensibility with country/folk songwriting. Green Hills of Earth, the band’s fifth album, showcases this grab-bag of influences.
The Mother Hips are unique in that they sound a little bit like a lot of different bands. At any given time, one can hear traces of Wilco (with whom the band has toured and whom they mention in the song “Smoke”), Pavement, and the Flaming Lips. The tracks on Green Hills of Earth reflect this identity crisis. The songs range from balls-to-the-wall blues rockers like “Rich Little Girl” to spacey piano ballads like “Emotional Gold.” The band even shows some Eastern influences on “Such a Thing.”
One unifying theme of the album, however, is the The Mother Hips’ odd musical arrangements. On one hand, the songs are totally stripped down with fuzzy guitars and overly simplistic solos. On the other, the band employs multi-layered, falsetto harmonies and elaborate keyboard and string arrangements. The resulting sound is comparable to your local garage band accompanied by a symphony orchestra. This mix of hi-fi and low-fi is intriguing at first, but soon grows tiring as many of the songs begin to sound the same. This is especially a problem in the middle of the album, which features a consecutive series of slow, droning ballads. Green Hills of Earth occasionally redeems itself, however, with gems like the head-bopping “Singing Seems to Ease Me.”
At a time when the age of “alternative music” has come and gone, The Mother Hips hearken back to the origin of the term, a time when college radio stations would spin the latest from R.E.M. or They Might Be Giants. If released a decade ago, Green Hills of Earth possibly could have had a mainstream reception. Instead, The Mother Hips will have to settle for making music for a smaller, mellower audience that is sick of a steady diet of limp bizkits and korn.