So apparently, the agreed-upon collective name for the current big wave of edgy, rock- / goth-leaning pop artists—think Cassyette, CarolesDaughter, et al—is ‘nu-gen’, and honestly, that isn’t bad. Regardless of what the dinosaurs will say whose taste hasn’t expanded in about three decades, this is where the most buzz in alternative music is coming from, and it’s a handy name to minimise the creative limitations that these artists so often like to make out they don’t have. At the same time though, it’s ripe for the industry overzealousness that tends to follow new trends and movements, proctoring as many artists as possible all at once in a way that can really leave a dent in their public image when it feels like they’ve simply been waiting in the wings to be thrust into an open space. Just look at Mothica, who’s been cutting her teeth independently for a good few years now, but interest from Rise and BMG and the prominence it brings to this sophomore album can connect the wrong dots in terms of the legitimacy of her career trajectory for some. And honestly, when Mothica remains tied in her own corner of alt-pop that doesn’t allow for a 17-track listen that’s consistently gripping, Nocturnal tends to lean into that more forgettable end. If anything, when it leans so deeply on the 2010s pop affectations of a thick, percussive pulse against dense atmosphere, it’s difficult to avoid thinking it’s a bit dated-sounded, which can thankfully be avoided. The likes of the title track and Sensitive with slice up their guitars to fit within a choppier groove that can be reminiscent of Halsey’s better work, and turning up the bass with touches of the off-kilter dollhouse aesthetic like on Like Cigarette isn’t bad either. The problem is how limited Mothica’s approach feels; even in those stronger areas, she’s working with a tool set that doesn’t allow for wider application outside of a pretty narrow range. Thus, the washed-out sounds along with similar selections of beats and grinding guitars wind up as pretty stock when they’re so commonplace. Within a sound that’s intended to be driven by transgression and the disregard for musical boundaries, alternative or otherwise, Nocturnal can’t shake how ultimately pedestrian it makes itself feel.
As for Mothica herself, she’s not an egregious fronting presence, in that a pop-oriented focus mercifully sands back so much of the screeching, performative edginess that’s never all that good. She’s got a tone similar to someone like Selena Gomez in her lower range on Lullaby, more of a coo that emphasises vulnerability in a way that’s still pretty conducive with a bigger sound like on Casualty. The writing isn’t bad either, in what largely orbits around usual overarching themes of trauma and anxieties, but tied in with Mothica’s own strenuous relationship with sleep and how deeply she’ll get in her own head because of it. There’s a feel of a performer here that similar artists don’t have, as images and characters’ voices are inextricably tied to Mothica herself, and just like Halsey will do on a lot of their work, strive to form more of a grander narrative. On the other hand, that inevitably brings up an argument of disequilibrium that, at this stage anyway, Mothica is in a precarious position to refute. As a character, she’s got her story and personification down to a fairly strong degree, to where if this were inserted into prose or regular poetry, it’d be a lot smoother. But when there’s music that accompanies it, and when said music betrays just how skewed the focuses are, Nocturnal starts to feel a bit threadbare in areas that it can’t afford to. It averages out to, well, a pretty average listen, not unworthy of some praise but also with distinctly less bite than names currently sitting at the top of the ladder. It’s not really fair to compare Mothica in that way when she’s taking a bit of a different route in her overall makeup, but it’ll still happen regardless, and the conclusions of a less-than-spectacular artist are still going to be drawn.
For fans of: Halsey, CarolesDaughter, Nessa Barrett
‘Nocturnal’ by Mothica is released on 1st July on Heavy Heart Records / Rise Records / BMG.
Words by Luke Nuttall