Friday, March 02, 2018

Album Review :: Moaning - Moaning




March 2 2018 (Sub Pop)


Words: Kieran O'Brien

After taking a quick scan of the upper echelons of festival line ups from recent years, one could be forgiven for thinking that guitar music is currently dominated by two tired groups of acts: middle-of-the-road ballad merchants such as Ed Sheeran, and 90s throwbacks such as Noel Gallagher and Stereophonics. However, a flurry of far more exciting acts have emerged in recent years, ensuring that outside the headline slots guitars still have the ability to excite and enthral. Much of these acts could loosely be filed under 'post punk', from the abrasive and dissonant Metz to the atmospheric and hook laden Eagulls.

Moaning's self-titled debut album falls somewhere between the abrasive and the atmospheric, an impressive first offering from the Los Angeles trio which stands up well to their post punk contemporaries. Opener 'Don't Go' is a seriously impressive start, with swirling, jagged guitars soaking a lazy, glazed over vocal. Listeners who prefer clean vocals with clarity may be disappointed with how low frontman Sean Solomon's voice is mixed, but it is very effective here. Solomon almost half-heartedly sings "this might work out somehow / might as well see / cos it’s right right now / even if it’s temporary." Sounding resigned to his fate and simultaneously in denial about a seemingly doomed relationship, a vocal buried by churning and chaotic guitars mirrors perfectly the sense of loss and despair unrequited lust can conjure.

If Solomon is defiant on 'Don't Go', he is defeatist on 'Tired'. "It's all wrong, I'm so tired" is uttered over a melodic New Order-esque synth riff, and although 'Tired' is slower than the opener, the driving bass of Pascal Stevenson and syncopated drumming of Andrew Mackelvie ensure that none of the vitalism of 'Don't Go' is lost. Many post-punk or shoegaze bands are guilty of overly relying on a formula of moody vocals under a wall of sound but Moaning hint they can mix it up on 'Tired' with dynamic time signature changes ricocheting through the final minute of the song.

New Order influenced synths make way for angular and fuzzy guitars on 'Artificial' and 'The Same', Solomon's frustration with modern day life now bristling with anger over jagged distortion reminiscent of 'Sister' era Sonic Youth. The 1980s influences continue through 'Does This Work For You' and ‘Useless’ as the trio adopt the quiet verse/loud chorus dynamics perfected by Pixies. Whilst admittedly Moaners are not hitting the euphoric highs Pixies are capable of here, there is still enough melody in the raucous chorus to impress. On ‘Does This Work For You’ in particular, the cluttered abrupt guitars which accompany the title lyric successfully present the desperation and almost suffocating denial in failing relationships.

If it wasn’t obvious already there is a thematic loneliness and angst emanating from almost every song on the record. Whilst this gives the LP a coherence and driving sense of purpose, it also accounts for some of the weaker moments on the record where the trio’s message isn’t delivered with quite the same conviction and urgency as it is on the album’s opening tracks. ‘For Now’ and ‘Misheard’ suffer most in this respect with neither straying from angular beats which ultimately fail to set the band apart from already tread post-punk ground.

Nevertheless, this is ultimately an impressive and exciting debut, and if they can maintain the vital sound pouring out of highlights such as ‘Don’t Go’ and ‘Does This Work For You’, post-punk enthusiasts should be very excited indeed about what is to come from Moaning.

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