Apparently L.A. grunge pop group Momma have never heard of the sophomore slump, and we’re all the better for it. The four-piece released their debut album Interloper in 2018, and a short two years later they’re sharing Two of Me, a concept album that manages to capture the imagination and shows incredible restraint at the same time. Etta Friedman and Allegra Weingarten, who share guitar, songwriting and vocal duties, recorded the album in Los Angeles with fellow bandmates Zach CapittiFenton (drums) and Sebastian Jones (bass).
Two of Me explores a shadowy world called the Bug House that resembles our own, but serves as a hell of sorts for transgressors. Friedman and Weingarten are intentionally vague as to what the Bug House looks like, but the descriptions they do provide resemble the realm inhabited by tethers in Jordan Peele’s film Us, down to the twisted carnival elements and the copies of real-world people living in it.
Momma doesn’t hit you over the head with overwrought descriptions of the Bug House, but, rather, this underworld creeps in insidiously through their muddled vocals, spare lyrics and distorted guitars. Two of Me could even be mistaken for a breezy listen the first time around, like a moodier Snail Mail or more psychedelic Chastity Belt. But once you’re clued in, you get the sense that when Friedman and Weingarten sing together, it’s like they’re looking into a warped funhouse mirror, their voices often indistinguishable from each other. They’ve cited this duality in their recording process (“We realized that we’re practically the same, but just different entire people,” they wrote in an essay for Talkhouse), and it’s evident in the way their vocals not only resemble one another, but also blend into one amorphous sound.
Then there’s the music itself, which draws you in with grungy yet sunwashed chords. It’s the aural version of when you close your eyes on a sunny day, heat pouring in red through the lids. “Bug House,” the sprawling opener, lulls you into a false sense of security before escalating into a vortex of heavy distortion. “Derby” gives each band member ample space to show off their own prowess, and “Double Dare” features an outro of tinkling, transportive carnival sounds. The distortion and fuzzed-out guitars sear the album into your mind.
Momma chose wisely when it came to their lyrics, selecting the most evocative phrases to pack a punch and delivering them with care. “Crushing cartilage / Binding on a binge / Fucker is a freak / Baiting this barbarian,” Friedman and Weingarten sing on the hazy “Biohazard,” which follows a man with Dissociative Identity Disorder who’s sent to the Bug World for a murder his alter committed. Their alliteration and the way they savor certain consonants illustrates the world of the Bug House. A girl pines for her lover on album highlight “Carny” after he’s banished to the underworld, and you can imagine her distress just in the repetitive yearning. The longing they express is only topped by their devil-may-care attitude on “Not A Runner,” singing “Did I fucking stutter? I told you I’m not a runner” so casually you can imagine them flicking ash off the end of a cigarette and rolling their eyes at the same time. You get the sense it’s not sincere, though, a feigned nonchalance to keep from being hurt. After all, the Bug House is not a place to let your guard down.
Trusting a listener always requires a leap of faith, and Momma is happy to throw caution to the wind. Their ability to maintain a clear sense of direction while embracing ambiguity makes this album an utterly rewarding listen. Two of Me provides insight not just into the fantastical world of the Bug House, but also the give-and-take between Friedman and Weingarten. Momma’s exploration of their own secondary natures invites us to do the same.
Clare Martin is a cemetery enthusiast, hibernophile and contributing writer for Paste’s music and comedy sections. She also exercises her love for reality TV at HelloGiggles every now and then. Go harass her on Twitter @theclaremartin.