There’s nothing to really fault Lab Partners on with the immaculately executed Moonlight Music. Like their former albums dating back to 2002, it’s a masterfully performed foray into the modern conception of psychedelia, immediately drawing from and begging for a litany of comparisons from the massive dream-pop/shoegaze cannon. With swirls of reverb, extended song lengths that bleed into one another, and a good balance between misty-eyed acoustic guitar/sitar fueled numbers and veritable sludgefests of layered electricity, they clearly have everything in place instrumentally. The lyrics—which float above these sonic clouds—espouse common themes of being out of touch with one’s mind, “laying back in the sun”, and other general notions associated with this genre that can best be labeled as ‘blissrock’.
The problem is that this vein of music sounds particularly derivative these days, in part because there’s no shortage of similar acts out there drawing from the same palette. Much of the Jagjaguwar roster comes to mind, especially such bands as Black Mountain, The Besnard Lakes and Odawas. Factor in other long-standing stalwarts like The Warlocks and the Brian Jonestown Massacre, and countless other acts on the rise like Young Galaxy and The Brother Kite, and you’ve got a lot of bands after a similar prize.
All these like-minded entities benefit from something very important, though, and that’s the inherent likeability of space-rock (or whatever denotative tag one wishes to ascribe to all these groups who subtly skew in one direction or another, but are essentially part of the same flock). Of course every act is a little different, and many are far more agreeable than others—it depends above all on an ability to balance an expansive, languid sound with focused songwriting, and ultimately not let style overwhelm substance. If done right, the music can make for a nice time out of mind, an all-consuming triumph of evocation. In that regard, Lab Partners come up near the top, since much of Moonlight Music offers up songs with a substantial backbone and solid structure.
It’s hard to ignore some overly-evident touchstones, such as the wavering guitar distortion nicked from My Bloody Valentine that emerges on “It’s Funny”, but once you leave behind the urge to cite influences, there’s a fair amount to enjoy here. The following track, “Strange”, uses a similar sound to much greater effect, cycling a seismically catchy guitar figure in between melodically upfront verses delivered with no small amount of cool panache. These give way to a characteristic sentiment on the chorus—“I can’t explain / No, no / It’s so strange”—which, in turn, morphs into a rolling, tumbling bridge with the lyrics to match: “Oh it’s true, you drag me down again”.
Another fine track, the brief “Trouble in Your Heart”, channels the etherized minimalism of Spacemen 3, and answers the trouble raised in the title with the suitably detached “I’ve got no answers”.
One of the finest moments comes on the stellar “All is Beautiful”, which evokes the movement of celestial objects to equate “The rain, the stars / The sun, the moon” with the nature of “How she moves me”. The inventive instrumentation, including shimmering sitar, stately trumpet and intricate 12-string guitar, make for a perfect compliment, echoing the grandiosity of the words and making for a perfect match with both the album’s title and the image found on the cover—teepees on the starlit moon.
It’s hardly worthwhile to mention the shortcomings heard elsewhere on Moonlight Music, which only seldom drags in the mud and generally adheres winningly to the sound a preeminent band in the field once dubbed “Psychocandy”. There are a few good reasons to tune into this, not least of all because Lab Partners are among the finest bands doing what they do among the plethora, and we can always use bands caring the torch with such talent. At the same time, it’s hard to avoid the notion that there’s little here that can’t be gotten with a little rawer of a bite from a Ride record. This album is better-produced, and more of an amalgam of influences, but does that really matter? You decide.