In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, in celebration of Mother’s Day, we’re picking songs about moms—or that have a mom-related word in their titles.
Menomena, “Baton” (2012)
“Hail Mary, you’re conveniently buried this evening” is a hell of an opening line for a song about a dead parent. Writing songs about parents is second only to songs about lovers when it comes to the subject that most often tilts over into sentimentality or oversimplification. That goes doubly for songs that are angry about parents—few people can pull off a “Damn you, parental figure!” scream with the deft verve of a Cobain. Even harder to nail are the myriad ways a parent can hold sway over our lives that we don’t even recognize, let alone acknowledge. Our fathers and mothers don’t just teach us how to behave in the world, or how to raise our own children. More often than not, their influence passes through us, undetected, when we’re watching a film, or buying a car, or getting to know someone. When people say, “I’d like to thank my parents,” they can’t begin to know all that covers.
Menomena’s most recent album Moms tackles this complexity; namely, how other aspects of life are touched by the parental influence. The album is suffused with both the joy and dread that comes from lineage, addressing the ambiguous relationship we all have with the best and worst in our families.
But as Freud could tell you, there is no parent more powerfully influential than the one no longer around, and it’s here Moms is most potent. Band member Danny Seim lost his mother when he was only 17, and as the preparations for this album began, he realized, at 34, that he had hit the point where she had been dead for longer than she had been alive with him. That realization spurred a flurry of artistic exploration with Seim and his bandmate Justin Harris, leading to the group’s most cohesive and heartfelt album. Both musically and lyrically, Moms is a straightforwardly earnest endeavor.
Nowhere is this clearer than in “Baton,” a number that comes as close as any Menomena concoction to being a pure pop song—and death suffuses every second of it. Over the course of the song, Seim longs for connection with his dead parent, mixing the confusion of missing a mother with the longing for a lover, the wish for a partner, and the desire to have someone, anyone, who could be there for him. “I wish I wasn’t forced to rob a grave to pull you near,” he sings, his plaintively breathy voice riding along on the steady mid-tempo beat of his drum work. The bass, meanwhile, pops and hums, adding an almost-jaunty vibe to an organ that’s busy creating an elegiac, haunting tone. This clash of impressions serves the track well, leaving listeners feeling as conflicted and riven in their emotional response as Seim is in his. It’s a deeply affecting song, one that reveals a naked vulnerability that might be best demonstrated by the insecure but brave confession of Seim’s final, wistful line: “I wish I could construct a better song for you, my dear.”