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The Moondoggies - Tidelands

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Artist: The Moondoggies

Album: Tidelands

Label: Hardly Art

Review date: Oct. 14, 2010

Don’t Be a Stranger, The Moondoggies’ 2009 debut, contained 13 songs that did a lot of things right. With a looming organ sound running through most of the album and Kevin Murphy’s everyman vocals in the forefront, it was safe to ascribe to the group a hearty Creedence Clearwater Revival influence — not a bad thing at all. Live, an urgency crept in to these songs, suggesting that at some of the band had put in time making full-on punk rock; in sharp contrast to that, however, was the album’s best song, “Night & Day,” which evolved from a stark acoustic testimonial to something barnburning. It was a debut from which any number of sounds might logically progress.

Tidelands, the followup, doesn’t necessarily sound like any of the potential followups one might have envisioned. Which isn’t to say that it’s a complete break from its predecessor, either — this is clearly the same band, albeit one that’s shifted away from both the CCR and the Meat Puppets DNA in its lineage.

The Moondoggies circa Tidelands are a group working on a larger scale. While previously Murphy’s vocals had been unadorned, here they’re backed, less by harmonies and more by the simple force of multiple members of the band singing as one. It makes certain lines — “God damn my head / And the things we say,” from opener “It’s a Shame, It’s a Pity” — much more resonant. Caleb Quick’s keyboards tend to roar through most of the songs; were they not a Seattle-based band with Alaskan touchstones in their press kit, the “Southern rock” tag would likely be ubiquitous.

The strongest songs here echo the stylistic shifts of “Night & Day.” “Uncertain” and “We Can’t All Be Blessed” shift from quiet to loud, pushing Murphy’s vocals out of their comfort zone and reveling in the interplay between instruments. The more contemplative “Lead Me On” is bolstered by striking violin work by onetime Red Stars Theory member Seth Warren. It’s at these moments where The Moondoggies seem closest to establishing their style: a retro-minded approach that never lacks for urgency and is willing to sacrifice beauty for bolder strokes.

Oddly, it’s the points on Tidelands when the album shifts towards confessionals — “A Lot of People on My Mind” and “Empress of the North” — that make for its least compelling moments. It may be that the greater dynamic range on Tidelands has shifted expectations; alternately, it may also be that the strength of this band is what they’re capable of as a group. And “Lead Me On” proves that they can tap into a pastoral, wistful mood and yet retain fuller arrangements.

There’s a strength in what these four musicians are capable of together, and the best moments on Tidelands explore the boundaries of such an approach. Much like their debut, this is an album in which the process of discovery is prominent, and it’s probably no coincidence that the album’s title evokes a transitional space in a constant state of change. Given the stylistic stagnation so evident these days, this is a welcome approach.

By Tobias Carroll

Other Reviews of The Moondoggies

Don’t Be A Stranger

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