Motherhive Syndicate teamed up with Paul Schluter and Megatone Studios to produce their debut Negative Spaces, a sprawling 13-track CD that clocks in at just under an hour. It’s another fine release from Schluter & Company who had an astonishing run in 2009 that looks to carry well into 2010. Unlike some of their other counterparts – Faces for Radio, Cudasigh, Muzzy Luctin, etc. – Motherhive Syndicate create songs with more drama and mood, each song possessing a light/dark dichotomy. The band is currently made up of members of Chemical Smile and Rapscallion. At the center of the Syndicate are the vocals and lyrics of Michael Kerwin. The words he crafts are deep, challenging and even disturbing. The vocal performances are intense and Kerwin and the rest of the band manage to merge the mood of the lyric and the music; no easy feat.
Mostly these tracks relay the feeling of a loss of control, emotionally, psychologically and even circumstantially. From the monsters-in-the-dark fear projected in “Dragonfly” to the killer in “Swallow the Dust”, to the helplessness of “In the Moment”, there are demons to be wrestled with and situations to be fled from. “Swallow the Dust” is particularly creepy, a tale of a brutal and demented murder.
“Grand Panjandrum” is perhaps the most radio-ready track, with “Sweetie Pie” being another contender, the latter featuring a blistering guitar solo from Seven Hansen. Hansen’s playing is fiery; he’s obviously got chops though he sometimes trades a few too many notes for cleaner phrasing. The 9/11-inspired “In the Moment” borrows heavily from Zeppelin or Robert Plant circa Now and Zen but is a definite standout, maintaining the intensity throughout. At times Negative Spaces suffers from too much mid-tempo light and dark, requiring fixed attention but on this track the slow-down in the bridge works well.
A few the tracks depart sharply. “Thought I Had All the Answers” toys with hippie-jazz and could have easily been left off. “White Out” turns acoustic, ultimately drifting a little too close to Marshall Tucker, though it does carry the dark mood lyrically. “Leave That Cat Alone” is the unexpected cut. Horns are brought in for a soulful romp that sounds like a different band altogether. Surprisingly, this is the one tune that holds a groove throughout. Though it sounds a bit out of place here, a full album of this material (under a different name perhaps?) could be intriguing.
Motherhive Syndicate appears to have changed drummers before, during and after the recording of this disc. Perhaps some stability in the lineup will allow them to hone in on what they do best, which is riff-driven rock; unsettling, powerful and seeped in self-deprecation.