What’s the difference between self-loathing and confidence? For Single Mothers frontman Drew Thomson, not a whole lot. Blazing through 10 dense punk songs in about half an hour, Thomson repeatedly commits social suicide in the most self-aware way possible. He wanders a scorched earth of shitty exes, shitty friends, shitty pretentious kids and his own shitty brain. For every barb he fires outward, there’s another one directed at himself. On “Marbles” he scrapes the lyrics “I’m a hypocrite and I’m OK with it and I’m so self-aware that it’s crippling” out of his throat, sounding like he’s frustrated to even be singing them. The album’s called Negative Qualities for a reason.
But for all that self-awareness, Thomson never loses track of what’s going on around him. He is a brilliant observer, writing boozy encounters, unsavory hookups and annoying bar conversation with the verve of someone who not-so-secretly loves being angry about life. It’s not all bitterness, though. The soaring guitar on “Ketamine” underscores the sad desperation of lyrics like, “When you’re drunk/ trying to get balance/ I looked over and I saw your mattress/ trying to make it feel like a slow dance/ trying to make it feel like romance,” and the scuzzy bass at the beginning of “Crooks,” the album’s emotional centerpiece, gives way to what amounts to a mission statement for Thomson’s entire life perspective: “Am I hanging in or hanging on?/ It gets so foggy when things go wrong/ I’m no quitter, I just quit when the situation demands it.” He doesn’t ever quite answer his own question, but I get the feeling he’s already come to terms with the dark truth lurking behind it.