Behind music, we theorize a perfect blank silence. It’s the indifferent white river of time on which we pin the notes. We see through to it not only in the gaps between songs or movements, but also in the alternation of ons and offs, the checked and unchecked boxes of rhythm itself.
On What Moon Things’ eponymous debut (Hot Grits Records, 2014), there is no silence to speak of between songs, no pure zero from which things come and to which they return. Instead, this aggressive-but-atmospheric music rises from and melts back into a bed of thrum, fizzle and fritz, tics and electric rashes: a disquieted and impure void in which certain half-things are almost alive. It’s there before the first song begins; it’s there in the interstices when one song craps out and barely manages to pass the talking stick to the next; and it’s there in the cracks and shafts throughout the eight songs on this lovely and curious album. For, while What Moon Things are very much a high-drama modern indie-rock band, few modern rock bands play so courageously with space and separation in their arrangements, and that allows the incessant, underlying sonic dis-easeto poke through again and again.
What Moon Things is a work of sullied beauty. Jake Harms, John Morisi and Chris Kehoe do their best to deface, dilute and pollute their own sweet melodies and elegant guitar arpeggios. Per usual in a genre that we might vaguely call “emo”(with apologies to the lads), we find the expected distressed, detuned and nauseous guitars, the most audacious of which drill all over the song “Squirrel Girl.” The half-mouthed, pitch-careless singing – low in the mix – breathes ambivalence and irresolution into the soaring melodies that seem to come so easily to singer/guitarist Harms.
But What Moon Things’ autoimmune attack on their own sweetness is craftier than just that. This record is full of subtle harmonic moves, clever Beatlesque chord progressions with their resolutions smeared or washed out entirely by the queasy impressionism and sour-note chiming of post-rock guitars. So many harmonic tensions are introduced and unresolved, suggestions made but not followed, to stunning aesthetic effect. It’s a beauty that keeps you allured, but always at bay.
Inspecting the typed lyric sheet (with the handwritten addendum “Thanks! You Are Sexay”), it becomes clear that What Moon Things is a relationship album – a quiescent, there’s-nothing-to-be-done, failed-relationship album with a strange Transylvanian subplot. Self-loathing and expressions of tenderness alternate with inscrutable and surreal images in its fragmented lyrical texture. One moment, it’s simple, poignant declarations like “I’m such an adult with high school stuck in my head.” The next, it’s “blue bell sirens in my oxygen.”
It is hard for me to guess at this band’s influences without embarrassing myself. The never-quite-finished bleeding-together of tracks reminds me of those epically weird albums that Tool made in the ’90s. Shoes are gazed at here and there, and some screamo catharsis employed in moderation (more Janov-period Lennon than Cookie Monster). The wonderful rocker “Doesn’t Make Much Sense” sounds like a forgotten Nirvana song, circa Bleach, wrapped in about three inches of gauze and then blared in an empty warehouse. It’s awesome. And the record’s finale may be its big payoff: the gorgeous, dynamic and crushing “Sun, Where’s the Fire?”
On Friday, May 30, What Moon Things appear on a stacked bill at BSP in Kingston with a bunch of up-and-coming indie bands with local connections and national attention: Porches, Frankie Cosmos (the alias of songwriter Greta Kline), Sleepers Bells and Palehound. What Moon Things then head out on the road for a month, taking their stunningly good new CD with them. Band to watch.