Never let it be said that the Mobros, siblings Kelly and Patrick Morris, are unambitious.
Their new EP, Characters, is a concept album about a group of orphans who attend a charter school run by a religious cult. On the EP’s climactic song, “Don’t You See,” the students are given a choice: They can either “graduate” to normal society or move on to the spirit realm.
It isn’t fair to give away their choice, but we will say that “Don’t You See” begins with layers of ethereal, choir-like vocal harmonies and maintains an otherworldly glow even as it incorporates barbed wire guitars and propulsive drum beats.
That is a lot for an EP to take on in a short amount of time. Concept albums are typically long and grandiose; albums like Pink Floyd’s The Wall, Green Day’s American Idiot, and The Who’s Tommy are sprawling, musically and lyrically dense works. Characters has Kelly Morris playing guitar, Patrick Morris playing drums, the two of them singing, and that’s it.
It’s also a pretty compelling collection of music. With no frills and no bass, Kelly sticks to choppy, razor-edge riffs and chords while Patrick lays down unadorned, straight-ahead beats. It’s indie-rock with the emphasis on rock, but The Mobros don’t use volume to make up for empty space; there’s a precision in their primal sound, and their vocal harmonies are spine-tingling.
Kelly Morris says he’s proud of Characters, which the brothers recorded at home, and he thinks that this is the band’s first definitive statement, even though they’ve released a full-length album and a handful of singles prior to the EP. And he has a point; taken as a whole, Characters is heavier, more polished, and more cohesive than anything the brothers have made before.
“This EP is basically the blueprint for what’s to come,” he says, adding that future releases will expand on the concept. “We knew what we wanted sonically, or at least we knew we wanted to find something that was more us and that had more of a larger concept, a bigger picture, and larger sound. We wanted to design a new direction and reinvent our sound in a certain way.”
“Don’t You See,” is easily the most epic song on the EP, and it’s also the one that Morris meant as a skeleton key for the concept.
“I can’t go back now, to the times we had,” he sings in an achingly emotional vocal. “They’ll always be there/ Once I left the exit of the school/ I vanished under the summer moon.”
That verse hints at the relatively simple origin of the EP’s complex concept: The time in our lives when we move on from the relative safety of childhood into the unknown.
“I had this thought of my last day of high school because it was the most bittersweet feeling I’d ever felt,” Morris says about the memory that inspired “Don’t You See.”
“I remember all of my best friends were around me, and all of us kind of looking at each other and thinking that it was an end of an era. And when the bell rang, we all exited into the hallway. It was 3 p.m., and the sun was lighting the hallway up, and we were all walking together with all their arms around each other, and it was the last walk out to that same ‘exit’ sign that we’ve been walking to for years.”
Elsewhere in “Don’t You See,” though, Morris hints at the larger concept of Characters, and searches for his own role in life:
“Where do we go from here?/ I don’t want to stray from you/ So would you seek eternity/ Through the meadow and/ Disappear into the shadows with me?”
“It’s about eternity, and how eternity is this all-consuming thing, and we’re in it,” he says. “It’s about our hours in eternity, and understanding and trying to fathom our place; where do we stand, and where are we?”
These are some big ideas that Kelly and Patrick are taking on (Patrick wrote two songs on Characters, the slashing rocker “You, Forever” and the soulful mid-tempo ballad “Where Are You Now?”), and despite those big ideas, Kelly says it never occurred to either of them to bring in additional musicians to help them make the music bigger.
“I never thought that we couldn’t do it ourselves,” he says. “I felt like if you have the vision, you know exactly what to do, and I feel like it’s best to pursue that vision alone. I was just afraid of straying away from achieving that vision if I added more people into the mix. I felt like maybe it would just become more complex and maybe we’d stray off course. My brother and I understand each other when it comes to creating things, so it’s hard adding other people into the mix, so we did it just us two.”
But if people ultimately end up enjoying Characters for being a strong collection of wiry-but-melodic indie-rock songs rather than a concept album, Morris, perhaps surprisingly, says he’s fine with that.
“I haven’t worried at all about if people miss the concept,” he says. “I wanted to create a world that people can step into if they want to. I would rather not force feed people the story; my dream was to create a labyrinth of information that people could just tap into.” Love Best of Charleston? Help the Charleston City Paper keep Best of Charleston going every year with a donation. Or sign up to become a member of the Charleston City Paper club.
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