Friday, November 30, 2007

Melody Maker, July 5th 1992

by Simon Reynolds

You know, maybe the Scene wasn’t so bad after all. Sure, it churned out rapture by rote, but grunge has similarly turned rage into a cliché, and produced the same meager amount of precious music in the process. Right now, I’d gladly choose the shoegazers’ dazed wonderment and fragility over the shaggys’ bludgeoning belligerence anyday.

Anyhow, Moose have sensibly put considerable distance between themselves and the dismal figment with which they were lumped last year, with this C&W-scented debut album. XYZ is admirably ambitious. The melodies clearly aspire to (but don’t quite scale) the dizzy heights of lachrymose grandeur attained by Glen Campbell/Jimmy Webb ballads like ‘Wichita Lineman’ and ‘By The Time I Get To Phoenix’. The overall sound is like AR Kane attempting to simulate the tremulous, heart-strings-a-quivering arrangements of such Sixties pop-C&W, but using their swarm of ice-floe guitars instead of an orchestra. The result is a spectral avant-C&W that mostly works like a dream: there’s a real affinity between country’s lump-in-throat despondency and the shoegazers’ mumbling miserabilism.

‘Little Bird’ sets the tone, a happy-sad melody swathed in a gauzy miasma of mandolins, with a rubber-band bassline that’s pure homage to ‘Wichita Lineman’. ‘Don’t Bring Me Down’ is candy-coated in acoustic cascades and rippling braids of pedal steel. Overall, gooey devotion is what Moose are about, rather than red-blooded desire. ‘The Whistling Song’ is all swoony glissades and dew-stippled cob-web and, yes, whistling. Then there’s a flustered cover of Fred Neil’s ‘Everybody’s Talking’", which doesn’t quite extinguish the memory of Nilsson’s Midnight Cowboy version. Slide One closes in epic style with ‘Sometimes Loving Is The Hardest Thing’: pang-laden strings and celestial vapour-trails of guitar form a slipstream of blurry majesty, like Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ meets George Jones.

On the flip, ‘Soon Is Never Soon Enough’ is the closest to conventional rock propulsion here; the model is possibly Exile On Main Street, but the candyfloss production impedes any real honky-tonk raunch. On ‘I’ll See You In My Dreams’, so hazy is Mitch (R.E.M.’s Murmur, Reckoning) Easter’s production, it’s like the song obscured in a dust-devil swirl of apple blossom. ‘High Flying Bird’ has one of the album’s prettiest out-of-time tunes and keening C&W-muzak strings. ‘Screaming’ is closer to the post-1988 radiance of Moose’s first and loveliest EP, a glad-foot gust of iridescence. ‘Friends’ is the least of Moose: it’s a ditty with a morose plod of a beat and Gedge-like vocals, although there’s nice acoustic embroidery as the song ambles into the sunset.

Finally, there’s ‘XYZ’ itself, the most successful fusion of the two sides of Moose’s schizo-aesthetic. It’s a desolate, ambient soundscape, a country homestead on the crest of the canyon. Whistling (again!) and Russell’s lonesome voice drift on the breeze, lustrous guitars peek through like shafts of sunlight after a downpour; the result is a gorgeously disorientating avant-MOR, like Eno at the Grand Ole Opry.

On the title track, Moose’s divided impulses (corny sentiment versus abstract expressionism, Glen Campbell versus AR Kane), which have coexisted rather precariously for much of the album, finally achieve glorious resolution. And the result is like nothing you’ve heard, right up there with Spiritualized’s ‘Step Into The Breeze’ in the annals of latterday bliss-rock.

Folks, this is one heck of a lovely record.


henry s said...

can't believe I missed this review the first time around...this album really hasn't aged a day...(neither have the other Moose records, for that matter) ahead of the curve were Moose, citing both country/western and EZ listening sources?...(this is a rhetorical question, of course)...I recall in interviews they were full of the ol' "let's not fuck around, it's all about the classics" stuff (by which they meant Neil Young, Beach Boys, Cocteau Twins, and, er, Primal Scream)...other than the random musical exchange with French band Spring, seem to have gone AWOL...sorely missed...

Anonymous said...

Also missed this one at the time... sort of surprised SR reviewed this one and that it was fairly well-reviewed. These days I listen to the first 3 eps more, but this was a favorite album at the time.