by Niccolo Dante Porcello (@niccoloporcello)
In the two years since 2016’s Ha, Ha, He., Mourn successfully navigated their way out of a terrible situation with their Spanish label, and won back their ability to tour and release music freely via their stateside label Captured Tracks. The result of these trying two years is Sorpresa Familia, a furious, roiling record that not only expands on the formidable groundwork laid on Ha, Ha, He, but fully exorcises the demons of that dysfunctional relationship.
Sorpresa Familia is Mourn’s third LP, as well as their best, somehow managing to eclipse the astonishing highs of Ha, Ha, He., by refining even further their already razor sharp songwriting and expanding their sonic palate. Much as “Flee,” the opening track on Ha, Ha, He., set the fiery tone for the rest of the record, “Barcelona City Tour,” the opener on Sorpresa Familia instantly signals the ethos of this record as a cathartic romp at maximum volume. The record sounds enormous from the beginning: 20 seconds of glasses-clinking “salut!” give way to bassist Leia Rodríguez Bueno and drummer Antonio Postius laying an anthemic foundation for guitarists and vocalists Jazz Rodríguez Bueno and Carla Pérez Vas. The first 30-seconds establish this as an album not of rueful reflection, but of pointed celebration for having regained their freedom, a theme that is reinforced throughout. On the phenomenal “Divorce,” Jazz Bueno shouts the forceful refrain “19 years old, and we’re signing our divorce!… it’s so silly to think you can scare us!” Tinged with malice and surrounded by menacing guitars, it comes off as both goading and celebratory, showcasing the brilliant self-assurance that comes from being young and having been fucked with. It is undoubtably a high on the album, and in Mourn’s discography to boot.
Mourn’s greatest skill is the (seeming) ease with which they write hooks; it is also the defining architecture of their music. As opposed to using the rhythm section as the foundation around which songs are written, Mourn build around guitars, freeing Postius to play prodigious drum patterns that result in endlessly engaging songwriting. This is pushed even further on Sorpresa Familia — every song is honed to its sharpest point imaginable. “Bye Imbecile” is 2:27 of pure hooks, and sounds the closest thing to a straightforward rock song on the album, before an ending section devolves into delightful chaos. Similarly blissed out sonically, “Fun at the Geysers” is an pounding and jagged recounting of the band being abandoned without food or money in Reykjavik, where they were staying to playing the Airwaves Festival, while their guide for the trip went to tour the geysers without them. Harmonizing guitars circle the tale, and wind in and out of a dominating hook that crescendos to the most punk moment on the album, where everything winds up into the shouted refrain of “Feel I hate you // I know you hate me // Feel I hate you // I know you hate me.”
Sorpresa… has a number of songs that relentlessly swirl and shift around Vas and Rodríguez Bueno’s guitars without ever finding a finite resting point. “Epilogue,” and “Skeleton,” twist and turn with astonishing results, and “Skeleton”’s progression toward’s the harmonized yell of “bite your fingers off until you see your bones // become a skeleton // please feel your skin disappear // peel your nails one by one” is an inspired bit of songwriting. “Candleman” is a wonderful successor to, and progression from “Your brain is made of candy” (off of 2015’s Mourn). Crescendoing and intricate, it is as gothic as it is anthemic, with a near-sing-along chorus. Together with the darkly atmospheric “Orange”, “Candleman,” and “Skeleton” form a triumvirate of topically dark songs that were written in dark times for the band, when they couldn’t tour or release music. They function perfectly alongside the brighter and more irreverently pissed off “Fun at the Geysers,” “Divorce,” and “Bye Imbecile.”
For an album that is in someways a recounting of their past two years, it is anything but straightforward, managing to capture the hardship of betrayal at the hands of older adults, while also staying unrelentingly full of youthful swagger. The biggest rebuttal Mourn could have mustered is indeed Sorpresa Familia, an album that is characteristically great, unrelentingly honest, and an astonishingly good time to listen to. Perhaps the capstone of the album is the caterwauling “Thank You for Coming Over” — a tongue-in-cheek, possibly entirely sarcastic recounting of a working relationship. Yells of “thank you for coming over!” fly over oscillating guitars and Postius’ crashing drums, leading to the most chaotic moments on the whole record. As Rodríguez Bueno sings “I feel thankful // I feel blessed // I feel thankful // I feel blessed” Mourn’s message on Sorpresa Familia becomes clear: we are family, and don’t dare fuck with us.