Label: Hardly Art
Release Date: Oct. 12
Rating (Skip, Stream, or Buy): Buy
Download: You can hear all of it now. The whole album is streaming on the band's Facebook page.
Don't Be A Stranger, the Moondoggies' 2008 debut, was a near-perfect soundtrack. The infectious, rollicking energy of "Save My Soul" and "Bogachiel Rain Blues" are jukebox gold; play those two songs in a crowded bar and every patron will be bobbing their head, whether or not they've heard the song before. Even more down tempo songs like "Old Hound" were bursting at the seams with lovely harmonies without feeling overpowering; the track gave the "$5 Cover Seattle" trailer emotional weight while not detracting from the movie's potential plot.
Tidelands, the band's sophomore album, demands more active listening and more deliberate attention. If you listen to the record passively--maybe in your car, as background music while doing something else--it will likely fall flat. Few of the songs have discernible hooks or even verse-chorus-verse structures; Tidelands will disappoint those Moondoggies' fan that just want to hear "Changing"--the bouncing bar-rock single from Don't Be a Stranger--over and over again.
Instead, Tidelands is an expansive, complex album. It's risky--no two songs sound a like, and the tracks rely on each other for movement--but when it works, it's beautiful and layered, a sophomore effort that shows growth.This complexity is clearest on Tidelands' first five tracks. The opener, "It's a Shame, It's a Pity," is a short bell curve of intensity: at just under 3 minutes, the song starts slow and spare, moving into driving guitars and thick harmonies, and slowing down just before transitioning into organ-heavy "Tidelands," the titular second track. The star, though, is "What Took So Long"; at nearly 6 minutes, the album's third song is its longest and best showing. It changes tempo and genre, layering on the instrumentation and vocals, moving between '70s-style rock at the opening to a bluesy, jazz-influenced riff after the first few verses. Everything after it is denouement: "Uncertain," with its too-often-repeated refrain of "I was uncertain/ I ain't too certain," is a passable track. Rather than standing alone as a song, it seems as a place-holder to slowly lower the tempo and production for the acoustic, gentle "Empress of the North." It's an example of how much thought went into the structure and shape of the album.
And while that structure works for the first half--the songs transition seamlessly from one to the next--it loses steam on the second, with "We Can't All Be Blessed" as the only stand-out song of the last five. But the album's intricate guitars and organ combined with the pitch-shifting vocals create a haunting atmosphere that's hard to shake. There's no hooks or pop sensibility necessary for Tidelands to get stuck in your head.