The Moaners – [Album]

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Oh, how times have changed for The Moaners since they first started out. When Melissa Swingle and Laura King first appeared in the earliest weeks of 2005 with Dark Snack, they almost seemed to come on the scene like the underground's answer to grunge and The Black Keys all at the same time; Swingle's guitar threatened to break loose from the singer's control at any moment while King's drums ran damage control and attempted to contain the mania. The sound was dirty and mean and nervous and Swingle seemed a lityle unclear on how she should sing over top of it all; it was a little shaky, but it was fun. As much fun as it might have been though, it was bound to change because sounding a little nervous and uncertain can only last so long; deep down, everyone knew the duo would have to tough up and they have on Nocturnal – but not the way anyone would have expected.

Even with a transitional album (2007's Blackwing Yalobusha) released in between, fans will be caught completely unaware by Nocturnal, The Moaners' third LP. This time out, the menacing/careless dichotomy that got listeners hooked on Dark Snack has been totally shelved and a set of new loves for old-time Country, bar band looseness and Shins-esque indie rock plays out in its' place.

Fans will be able to mark a much cleaner and more stable instrumental design in Nocturnal immediately as “Humid Air” opens the record. With a sound as sweet as honeysuckle and a much fuller mix courtesy of some bass guitar that has never been present in The Moaners' sound before (it's handled by King here, but Earl Poole Ball handles much of the low end responsibilities elsewhere on the record), Swingle opens right up and her vocal tone gets wistful in a Chris Isaak sort of way; it's actually pretty, if a little unlikely. As the song trails to a close, listeners will be struck by how taken in by these changes they were, and wonder (maybe hope?) if this will be the new norm.

Those hopeful listeners aren't let down. As it turns out, this new countrified side of The Moaners is only half of the new norm, but the band never returns to their old cacophony at any time on Nocturnal. Rather, for the first half of the album, the band focuses on refining its' Country chops with surprising success; tracks including “Cowboy Bob,” “Ramblin'” and “Moonshiner” all make the most of Country's stock dusty and windswept images and structures and come off as an honest attempt (at least) at presenting some western heart. True to that image, there are no heroics or jarring moments to be found. On the first half of the record, listeners get comfortable without much trouble and laze, as the band does, in the simplicity of the presentation. That sort of record would be easy enough to respect from The Moaners but, during the second half of this runtime, things begin to twist and shift a bit to make it even more exciting.

Beginning with “Barbarian In China” – where Swingle sits down alone with her guitar and a Chinese flute – Nocturnal indulges in a bit of exotic seduction and sonic expansion. That disembodied flute weaves a captivating spell around listeners as it meanders aimlessly along to nowhere, but somehow gets listeners to chase it. The song itself is simple and almost feels like it could be filler because it seems so out of place, but it has some magic in it which will give listeners pause. That same trick gets played again on “Blue Moon” with a saw, at which time it becomes apparent that, if Swingle doesn't know how remarkable what she's doing is, she's an idiot savant; between “Barbarian In China” and “Blue Moon,” listeners will feel compelled to sit down and pay attention and they will gladly submit to becoming The Moaners' plaything. After that, the band takes a trip to the bar (“Bartender's Lament”) complete with crowd noise before babbling about trying to teach a dog to play guitar and hanging out with Woody Guthrie in an acid-fueled haze (“Happiness Is The Road”) before spiraling off into oblivion with “Little Man” to close the record. In that end, listeners will be furious; some will be angry that The Moaners didn't keep going with the country muse which drew them in for through the first half of the record and some listeners will feel shortchanged because they got ready for a ride just in time for the record to end. That pretty much accounts for everyone listening being dissatisfied with Nocturnal, but that may have been The Moaners' plan; on this album, the band changed their sound dramatically, but they left the record unfinished. Because of that “work in progress” vibe, The Moaners will have listeners flocking back to see how the story of Nocturnal turns out on future releases.



The Moaners – “Humid Air” – Nocturnal
The Moaners – “Cowboy Bob” – Nocturnal


is out now, but it is not currently available on Amazon. Buy it here directly from Holidays For Quince Records .

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