In 2018, the Oakland group Cold Beat released A Simple Reflection, a collection of seven Eurythmics covers done up in gauzy synths and delivered in frontwoman Hannah Lew’s hushed, gothy alto. As it turns out, that project was the prefect preamble for Mother, the group’s fourth album, and first for DFA. Like Reflection, Mother looks to the ‘80s for inspiration, jettisoning the wiry, guitar-led post-punk that defined early outings like Over Me and Into Thin Air in favor of big, sighing, robotic electronics that—tonally and texturally—land directly in line with albums like Replicas and Dazzle Ships. And while the mood occasionally brightens—I can’t prove it’s a one-to-one duplication, but the arpeggiated synth progression powering “Pearls” sounds an awful lot like “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”—Mother mostly operates at a kind of icy, android-like remove. The group nail their chosen touchstones with striking efficiency: the moody claustrophobia of “Gloves” creates a sense of dread with gurgling electronics and a processed-to-oblivion guitar line, while on “Crimes,” Lew cascades multiple ghostly vocal layers down a slick, frigid electronic plane.
But for all of its expertly executed melodic machine-work, the album’s lyrical concerns are entirely human. The subject matter is right there in the title: the album was written while Lew was pregnant, and was grappling with both the dread and the joy of bringing a new life into the world. Lew mostly rejects taking a literal approach. The title track could be written from the perspective of her newborn son—“Mother will they hit the switch?” “Mother will they drop the bomb?”—but it could just as easily be Lew herself asking questions of Mother Earth (an interpretation that feels like less of a stretch when you look at the album cover, and hear Lew sing, “Mother, they’ve forgotten you”). Album-closer “Flat Earth” hints at a similar duality: about 40 seconds in, a synth pattern that sounds like a melody from the kind of musical mobile that typically hangs above a bassinet enters, as Lew softly sings about cyclical orbits and repeated routines—“It’s the same all over again/ Cross the same road/ put more air in the tires”—that are reassuring in their familiarity. It’s the closest Mother comes to resolution: the world is chaotic, and that chaos is beyond our ability to control. But there are still small moments of peace, calmness, and joy in the simple things that make up our everyday life.