Debut album by esteemed actor expands his notoriety
Most people would recognize Caleb Landry Jones on screen, acting in major films like Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and Get Out, but following the release of his debut genre-bending album The Mother Stone, he seems to be just as at home in the recording studio. Rather than being some kind of cash-grab or strategic management move, this release feels completely genuine and a long time coming for Jones.
Writing music just as long as he’s been acting, The Mother Stone is Jones finally sharing melodies he’s had locked away since he was sixteen. Leaning into his off-kilter All-American public persona, his music is psychedelic, disorientating, avant-garde and incredibly difficult to describe.
From the first moment of the opener, “Flag Day/The Mother Stone,” it is evident this album is no series of thematically connected songs, but rather a sweeping dramatic journey for listeners to embark on. It kicks off with dark theatrical circus music, utilizing a full traditional band and orchestra. Sandwiched in between these twisted musical sections sits a snippet of a pop-rock song, only playing out long enough to tease listeners into a false sense of security. It is impossible to predict where Jones is going next.
In many ways, The Mother Stone is akin to classic rock operas. Each song leads flawlessly into the next and, despite the lyricism being more like rambling word vomit, all the material connects to what came before it. Jones even goes so far as to embody different voices, although whether these are “characters” or simply different streams of consciousness is unclear. Taking obvious cues from The Beatles and David Bowie, the only thing preventing this record from being the modern rock opera is the lack of plot.
Jones has spoken to the record’s absurd lyricism, claiming that, “most of [the album] takes place in dreams,” according to Sacred Bones Records. From start to finish, The Mother Stone is dripping in doom and gloom, both lyrically and musically, however, it doesn’t amount to anything concrete. Everything is hazy and dreamlike, which is the point and makes for impressive execution of the concept, but it also makes it difficult to find something to hold onto. The only thing this record is missing is one single moment of clarity and lucidity for listeners to breathe.
With a run time of 68 minutes and comprised of 15 tracks, many of which go well past the six-minute mark, brevity is not a virtue of The Mother Stone. While it’s length allows the unreliable narrator to ramble and spiral out time and time again, which works in terms of aesthetic, it makes the record inaccessible and a bit clumsy. The same effect could have been achieved in eight or nine tracks and perhaps the sensory overload would be minimized.
Despite the surplus material, all of it is incredibly complex and speaks to Jones’ competency as a musician. It’s easy to forget this is his first release with how mature and intricate it is. Lasers to howling dogs to flutes and fiddles, The Mother Stone takes senseless sounds and layers them into grand melodies on every single track. With songs like “All I Am in You/The Big Worm” and “Little Planet Pig” literally imploding on themselves, Jones has translated his understanding of storytelling from visual to auditory with both of these songs feeling like a movie character’s major breakdowns or maybe even breakthroughs.
A soundtrack to a cabaret in hell, The Mother Stone is like nothing else modern music has seen from someone already dubbed an actor. Manic, ridiculous, weird and theatrical as it is, Caleb Landry Jones has outdone himself on this first record. More of an experience than just a collection of songs, one thing is clear by the end of the hour: the experience was worthwhile.