San Francisco band Moe Tar up the ante considerably on their abundantly confident and assured second album Entropy Of The Century. Not to say that their debut From These Small Seeds was anything short of a great introduction to the group, but this new album witnesses a band that have hit the ground running, laying their own road, foot to the floor.
Featuring the powerfully assertive voice of Moorea Dickason, the “Moe” of Moe Tar, here we have twelve art-pop songs of a very high calibre indeed. Most of the songs are the work of bassist Tarik Ragab (the “Tar”), a man blessed with the unusual knack of making seemingly undanceable time signatures waltz effortlessly through a poptastic universe of irresistible hooks and fun tunes. Nowhere is this more apparent than on Friday Night Dreams, perhaps the apogee of that unlikely combination. Tarik has a similar talent to Todd Rundgren; that of making complex arrangements sound straightforward, which is also a credit to the skill of his fellow band members.
This underlying complexity is not restricted to the music. The concept of the album deals with the infinite transformative states of energy; order into chaos, new possibilities arising from disorder in an infinite cycle, using examples real and metaphysical. Linked to that is a recurrent lyrical theme of the war of technology versus the human soul, often to robotic music that somehow manages to sound organic and natural, We Machines being a case in point. All heavy stuff, but these weighty topics are sung with an irrepressible optimistic energy by Moorea in contrast to the sometimes bleak subject matter. The sheer verbosity of the first album remains, and not having had the chance to see Moe Tar live I still wonder how on earth she remembers it all!
Referring back to Friday Night Dreams, the lyrics of which are a Moe/Tar collaboration, Moorea makes the chorus “Nobody told me that it’s a lie the world won’t change in the blink of an eye. Someone said pretty soon we’ll be dead so put the fascination back inside of your head” sound like the most natural pop-hook in the world. Scratch below the first layer of skin of these infectious ditties and there lurks a restless intelligence, evident in both music and words.
The band play as an ensemble and there are no “flash for the sake of it” moments; trying to cram noodling into this already overflowing melting pot would have been an ingredient too far, as the band no doubt realised! Occasionally you might spot a Queen-like powerchord, or a Gentle Giant-like piano flourish, but mostly the instrumentation is a densely packed delight that compliments the many hundreds of words pouring forth to a tee.
Another highlight is Letting Go Of Life, a song about the blissful acceptance of one’s end that begins with a triumphal declaration: “Say goodbye to free will and the space that you fill”, then soars up and up and eventually away on the wings of angelic synthesised loops, as the consciousness becomes part of everything else, right back where it started. Marvellous!
The band find time to take a breather with the comparatively straightforward piano-led ballad Benefits, a post-break up song written by keyboard player Matt Lebofsky. Matt also plays a big part in miRthkon, another band who like to mess with preconceptions, albeit in a more avant-rock fashion. Tellingly there are not anything like 1097 words in Matt’s song, but the next one returns to verses of a length Bob Dylan would baulk at. Raze The Maze is suitably labyrinthine and meanders musically and lyrically, and is certainly a song where you will need to concentrate. If someone can tell me what “Interlarded lexophantic” means, they’re welcome!
Where The Truth Lies staggers off on the dirtiest of riffs in a style Andy Partridge would have been proud of in 1978, but soon attention is diverted to another assured lungful from Moorea. The most “guitar” track of the album, I can visualise this being a bit of a mosher live. That doesn’t stop crazy avant interjections of syncopated keys and voice almost (deliberately) upsetting the applecart more than once, with occasional guitar bursts gamely attempting to keep this wild and glorious mess of song on the ground, like two or three folk desperately holding on to the trailing rope of a rising hot air balloon to keep it from escaping gravity’s pull.
The Unknowable concludes the album with its longest song, at a touch under five minutes. Sensibly, given the complexity (that word again) of these arrangements Tarik has kept things brief in order that the tunes do not become hard work to listen to, in fact they are a joy to unravel. Taken at a relatively leisurely pace The Unknowable is an epic rolling thunder of a tune that builds without changing, a kind of musical Moebius Strip that eventually ends in chaotic entropy, as indeed it should.
Moe Tar somehow manage to pull off merging awkward intricacy with a pop sensibility that makes them entirely accessible, in a fashion I have not encountered since the days of XTC. Lovers of complex pop music, look no further!
01. Dystopian Fiction (2:00)
02. Entropy Of The Century (2:52)
03. Regression To The Mean (3:50)
04. Welcome The Solar Flares (3:03)
05. Friday Night Dreams (4:05)
06. Letting Go Of Life (4:46)
07. We Machines (4:36)
08. Benefits (3:21)
09. Raze The Maze (2:38)
10. Where The Truth Lies (3:02)
11. The Unknowable (4:49)
Total Time – 45:34
Moorea Dickason – Vocals
Tarik Regab – Bass & Vocals
Matthew Charles Heulitt – Guitar
Matt Lebofsky – Keyboards
David M Flores – Drums
Record Label: Magna Carta Records
Year Of Release: 2014