Since the announcement of showcase nominees, some local bands have started campaigning for votes, offering bribes and assorted favors. Others have tried to expose their competitors' past drug use or sexual scandals in an attempt to sway voters. Okay, so maybe none of that is true. But it is true that many of the bands involved take the voting process very seriously and have their li'l hearts set on being named winners at the awards ceremony at the Gothic Theater on Sunday, September 26. So vote carefully.
With the palpable excitement of the music awards in the air, it seems the perfect time to take a long, hard look at two new local releases, which oppose each other like protons and electrons.
First is the fresh-from-the-presses ...More Than I Can Give, the debut from the Matthew Moon Band, to be officially released Saturday night at the Soiled Dove. (Moon's been a busy boy lately -- he will appear at 9 p.m. Thursday, September 16, as part of a joint CD-release party for his album and Wendy Woo's second release, Wide Awake and Dreaming. He will also appear at the Dove on Sunday at 7 p.m., as a nominee in the music showcase's Singer/ Songwriter category.) Those who've regularly attended Moon's live performances probably already knew this, and I always suspected it, but the artfully packaged ...More Than I Can Give proves that Moon is not the kind of guy mothers warn their daughters about, even if he is a longhair.
Love, relationships, spiritual musings, the passing of time...these are themes young Matthew broaches, evoked by his lovely, elastic voice and clear, emotive acoustic-guitar playing. Throughout the release, Moon just seems like a damn nice fella -- the kind of guy who likes to walk in the forest (a photo inside the CD jacket confirms this), a guy who likes quiet evenings at home, a guy who either flew through the Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus bullshit book series or never needed it to begin with. Yet an old adage dictates that nice guys eat dust while drop-out degenerates lure the ladies with the intrigue of danger; on this release, Moon narrowly averts the dreaded "too nice" label. Sure, he sometimes sings in a falsetto, expresses emotions in a purely non-cryptic way, embodies nearly every convention of the "singer/songwriter" genre, but he manages to be sweet without making us nauseous.
Moon and his bandmates -- bassist Brad Staats, guitarist Leon Chesis and drummer Jason Segler -- approached this record the right way. They called on local music friends and luminaries, including Hazel Miller, Opie Gone Bad's Jake Schroeder, Yvonne Brown and Coco Brown from the Nina Storey Band, Wendy Woo, Sherri Jackson and former Samples drummer Kenny James, to contribute additional backing vocals and various instruments throughout the release. The result is a full, clean sound that nicely frames Moon's songwriting abilities. His vocals evoke everyone from Paul McCartney to (strangely) Freddie Mercury to Ben Folds, with whom Moon has the most in common. Like Folds, Moon's unapologetic willingness to just go for it -- both vocally, thematically, and musically -- at times threatens to tip the cheese scale. Yet whereas Folds stretches the "heartfelt singer" medium by singing about getting high and hanging out with friends with as much emotional gusto as Neil Diamond or Billy Joel, Moon is most comfortable within standard greeting-card confines. Which is too bad. The album's at its best when it takes risks and departs from more formulaic love or folk-oriented song formats.
The title track and "Lost Again" are pleasant-enough melodic, crisp tunes that would sound perfectly appropriate in the background of those "love revelation" moments on prime-time TV dramas. The chorus of "One" employs the same weird computer effect that turned Cher into a scary robot on "Do you Believe in Love," to a much more subtle effect. Jeremy Lawton's skills on the Hammond B3 organ are a nice addition to the song as well. And with tongue in cheek -- one hopes, anyway -- Moon reveals his cannibal tendencies on "BBQU": "I'd like to barbecue you, baby/And with a beer you taste so fine, you make me crazy." It's a silly song, yes, but with the deft banjo playing of Sam DeStefano from the Hate Fuck Trio and an infectious, beach-bum chorus, it should be EZ4U2CY the song is a crowd pleaser. "No Oil Left to Burn" closes the album and is simply a very pretty, pensive song, more minimalist than the others found here. Yet with a bass line that sounds a lot like many gurgling frogs, "Little Room" is among the album's most musically daring arrangements. Against instrumental scrims of psychedelia, a thankfully understated wah-wah, even a touch of dancehall in the refrain, the song has a sexiness missing elsewhere, as Moon laments the physical and emotional restraints of a love affair. That song, as well as the soul and gospel-undertones of "Fishing for God," indicate Moon and his band have the chutzpah to back up riskier, more original ideas when they do come along, which should continue to save them from the nice-guy tag. (Available at area record stores after September 18. Contact www.matthewmoon.com).
Years ago, I interviewed the band Björn Again, who endeavored to persuade me that they were not an ABBA cover band but an intergalactic incarnation of the beloved foursome. My suspicion is that the members of Sci-Fi Uterus would tell you, straight-faced, that they are indeed non-human -- or possibly post-human -- entities roaming an apocalyptic landscape where electronic music rules all. Their second release, Primal Lick, on the local Hammerhead imprint, certainly strengthens that argument. Sci-Fi Uterus would have swept the Music Awards Showcase if we'd had a category for "The Kind of Music You Might Hear at a Cyborg Wedding Reception." Opening with "beauty," Primal Lick feels like a kind of synth opera, with movements, landscapes, characters and a subliminal plot, calling to mind everyone from Forest for the Trees, circa-1984 Depeche Mode, the B-52's and Dr. Demento.
Lyrically, this album is like Dr. Seuss for the dance set. "Raw & Vital" mentions "coyotes from hell leaping for your death" and the "earth shriveled up like a red face." I have no idea what they're talking about most of the time, but I hear something new with each listen, and it almost always makes me laugh. I can say that the threesome, which consists of Do-Ho, Mystic Antenna Chick and Stif Spring, seems to revere Robert De Niro (he pops up in at least two songs; possibly he's some sort of god in the future). "Heat to Sink" finds Mystic Antenna Chick vocally resembling a young Deborah Harry -- were she an extraterrestrial, of course. On the track, all three Uteri take turns with spoken overdubs set against electro-Jesus Christ Superstar music. (I mean that in the best way possible.) "Jewels Venus" sounds like ritual music for a virgin sacrifice to aliens, but however kooky the delivery, the message is salient: "Just when things are looking up, I'm standing in hell." And on "Remember," when Mystic Antenna Chick exuberantly and bravely proclaims, "I like butterscotch!" it sounds as meaningful as a universal proclamation of some cosmic truth.
Sci-Fi Uterus is witty, silly, covertly literate and highly musical, which should gain the band an audience with fans of electronica, space fiction and musical theater, and children under eight. Upcoming shows are TBA, and I can only imagine what those evenings will be like. All I know is, I hope I'm invited. It turns out a Primal Lick is pretty tasty indeed. (Available now through mail order only, widely available in winter. Check www.grantrproductions.com.)