out now

In a recent conversation with his mother, Molly Drag’s Michael Charles Hansford was discussing his childhood obsession with the Bob Dylan documentary No Direction Home, an allowance-purchased DVD his mother tells him he watched every day for at least a year. “Did I ever tell you what I liked about him?” he asked her. “Yes,” she responds. “You said you liked him because nobody knew who he was.” It’s easy to see this influence bear out on the Montreal songwriter’s early career – his recordings were purposefully shrouded in mystery, promotional photographs rarely included a picture of his face. But Mammoth – Molly Drag’s seventh LP, out May 24th on I’m Into Life Records – is unmistakably a direct look at the camera.

In practice, Molly Drag’s discography up to now has arguably fit the “bedroom” label by which it’s historically been tagged. While songwriter Hansford’s self-produced recordings across his prolific discography have explored a wide range of textures since he began the project in 2015, they’ve always served as a deeply personal – and immediate – method of catharsis. Songs were recorded quickly with whatever equipment was close at hand, takes were rarely belabored. The spirit, too, fit this descriptor – one got the sense that Hansford couldn’t afford to delay the relief of expressing his emotional turmoil, and his songs were consequently laden with a compelling urgency. His music typically read like dispatches from an ongoing private exorcism, fittingly becoming comforting points of reference for audiences wrestling with a similar darkness.

But it’s one thing to feel kindred to someone’s private experience, and another entirely to be directly welcomed into it. Mammoth – Molly Drag’s seventh LP – does the latter. Every one of the record’s nine tracks feels like a different kind of embrace, flourishing in sunlit, boundless space where Molly Drag once struggled behind locked doors. “All that I want is for you to be warm,” Hansford sings on early highlight “Coming Back For More,” and it feels like Hansford has warmth of his own to extend. It’s a change you can hear beginning to take shape on his prior LP, 2021’s Resemble Another: “If Molly Drag was an old farmhouse full of dust, that record was me opening the windows and letting some fresh air in,” says Hansford. Mammoth delivers on that emergent spirit, relishing in a hard-won sense of lightness.

While Mammoth is still powerfully cathartic, it rarely ever feels haunted in the way that once characterized Molly Drag – a transition marked by Hansford’s own strides towards a more stable state of mental health. After a diagnosis and group therapy allowed for Hansford to more explicitly work through the topics touched on in his prior material, Hansford no longer found self-absorption compelling. “I realized I didn’t have anything to romanticize about anymore,” he tells me, laughing. “It felt really freeing for me.” Hansford’s exit from his head allows the record to be marked by a renewed consideration for the listener – a focus on crystalline, gorgeous production, honed-in, confident performances, and deliberate contributions from Hansford’s community of collaborators.

“I think I just wanted to make something that I felt like I wasn’t capable of making – something that was a clear and evident step up,” Hansford says. Raised in rural Ontario, Hansford pilots Mammoth toward the big-screen scope of the music that bowled him over as a teen – Coldplay, Sigur Ros, Arcade Fire, Radiohead – music that honored an imagination not yet hemmed in by the adult world of limitations. Hansford bursts through that seam not a second into the record’s runtime, with lead single “Dogfight”’s climbing piano conjuring images of wide-open space, the figure at its central focus filled with growing tenderness. “I’m on fire,” Hansford sings. “Watch me burn.”

Mammoth’s songs dare to aspire to an off-the-floor format heretofore foreign to the world of Molly Drag – there’s genuine interaction between musicians occurring in these songs, and it sounds like an intentional conversation rather than a private thought. Each element is allowed to stand free of the anonymizing kind of reverb Hansford once used on impulse, and his compositions are consequently rendered with clear space for the listener to settle into. That space even accepts Hansford himself – upon a first listen back to “Shoplifter,” he found himself moved to tears, realizing that the song he’d initially penned about Bonnie and Clyde was actually drawn from childhood memories shared with a recently-passed friend.

This self-addressed thread runs through Mammoth, with the record’s second-person “you” often feeling like a mirrored version of Hansford as he navigates his own healing. “Turpentine,” a nursery rhyme-like moment of pause after similarly lush second single “Wild Life” draws to a close, is a song Hansford tells me he cherishes. It’s easy to see why – a line like “the brightest light will come from underneath your feet” registers as a mantra of self-encouragement. It’s a beautiful thing to witness – Hansford has come out from his hiding place, and he’s likely never going back.

— Caleb Cordes




© Molly Drag 2024