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Caleb Landry Jones - The Mother Stone Music Album Reviews

The film actor’s musical debut is full of shadowy theatrics and cryptic gibberish. Rarely do you encounter music this bombastic and unreasonable.

No one plays a better creep than Caleb Landry Jones. Watch him sniff out Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out, wild and impatient, like a dog that’s just spotted a rabbit. Look at his sunken, lying eyes in Twin Peaks: The Return. Jones exemplifies the all-American boy gone sour, and most of the time, it’s unclear whether he’s pretending. “You know when you push so hard and you pop blood vessels and go unconscious a little bit?” he says of his acting. “Sometimes it’s like that, when you wake up and you don’t know where you are.” During interviews he erupts into strange, delirious laughter. You can’t watch a single YouTube clip of him without fans commenting, “Joker vibes.”
The 30-year-old Texan began writing and recording music at 16, the same age he made his film debut in the Coen Brothers’ neo-Western No Country for Old Men. Over the years, he accumulated more than 700 songs. His thriving acting career pulled him away from music, until a few years ago, when he landed a meeting with filmmaker-musician Jim Jarmusch. In lieu of an introduction, Jones wrote him a piano instrumental. But they met at a diner, where there was no way for Jones to play his new piece. Instead, he slipped Jarmusch two collections of songs he’d written in his parents’ barn several years earlier, and Jarmusch connected him to Sacred Bones founder Caleb Bratten. Soon, Jones got to work on his debut album, The Mother Stone, incorporating his piano composition into the album’s title track.
There’s a distinctly theatrical bent to The Mother Stone, which is framed as a “parade led by multiple unreliable narrators” who spew their monologues and then vacate the stage. In the video for “Flag Day/The Mother Stone,” stout, crimson-lipped aristocrats lounge in slo-mo, their faces plastered in Warholian neon, mouths agape like Edvard Munch’s The Scream. Sluggish carnival music intensifies the unease. Then, midway through the expansive, seven-and-a-half minute opus, a cymbal crash halts the sinister fanfare. Psychedelic guitar replaces the garish horns. Abstruse sentences escape Jones’ lips like vapor: “It takes a daffodil … to shake the jelly from the stone.”

Spectral harmonies, waltzing strings, what sounds like a dog howling at the moon—all rear their heads in the opening suite. There’s something admirable about how willfully The Mother Stone defies easy listening; rarely do you encounter music this bombastic and unreasonable. (Jones cites the Beatles’ White Album as a major inspiration.) “The Hodge-Podge Porridge Poke” flips alien lasers into bluegrass fiddle. Strange voices materialize as if from a dream: a grubby croak in “Katya,” a gruff deadpan in “All I Am in You/The Big Worm.” In “You’re So Wonderfull,” Jones jauntily sings “you’re so won-der-ful” and foams at the mouth. The full tracklist is 15 items long, with several spilling past six minutes.

But once you burrow deeper, the shadowy theatrics and cryptic gibberish become monotonous; these are not different characters, but the same man rambling on and on. Most of the songs—overwhelmingly sung in a nasally British whine—have the wilted grandeur of a drunk’s last hurrah. The lyrics conjure a hazy aura of doom and gloom, but they don’t amount to compelling character sketches. An ounce of clarity would go a long way towards balancing nutty remarks like, “The solitude I’ve reached has got one foot,” or, “Shakin’ like the main-frame, not warning, like they’re milking/All the sharp tanked slinkies, milling.” (According to Jones, the album’s themes include “abuse, loss, hope, the good tickle, the bad tickle, the runaway train, the perfectly timed flying bus.”) An unreliable narrator should be intelligibly so, if only for a moment. Or else why keep listening?

In its dream-like exhibitionism, anachronism, and novelty, The Mother Stone is a little like Sleep No More, the immersive, Kubrikian staging of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, in which masked audience members follow silent actors around a dimly lit 1930s hotel, piecing together a deconstructed story at their own pace. Some people will indulge in the spectacle, valuing the sensory thrill over narrative coherence. Others will emerge from the multi-hour ordeal exhausted, wondering what the hell to make of the chocolate sauce and sporadic nudity. Caleb Landry Jones’ music inspires a reaction somewhere in the middle: It’s interesting, even fun while it lasts, but you probably won’t return.

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