The afterlife of Marc Bolan is a strange affair. It seems every couple years a band comes around so heavily indebted to the glam-boogie of T. Rex that its songs make you wonder if you’d missed some deep track that has only now been unearthed. Yet, for some reason, the influence of T. Rex is often not detrimental. Here, derivativeness can actually benefit since the gleeful enjoyment of rock and roll that Bolan purveyed is pretty irresistible. And even though David Bowie was the genius of glam, his majesty is unapproachable compared to the shimmering fun of Bolan – so bands can take without compunction and not be accused of reaching beyond their means. Perhaps the real key to the non-extinction of T. Rex is that Bolan, like Chuck Berry before him, perfected a single riff structure that he repeated without boredom, and though his life was cut short, there was still breath in that riff.
Night Moves, a young trio from Minneapolis, has the T. Rex bug. If you hear John Pelant’s plaintive warble, you’ll think nothing of else but Marc Bolan. He’s channeling that elvin vibrato at every moment, to the point that it becomes a bit of a put on. The soulfulness of the Bolan sound starts to seem insincere. The comparison ends up leaving Night Moves on the weaker side, not least because of the band’s lack of sexiness. Night Moves eschews a full drum kit for pounding toms that drudgingly hit the beat. But that heavy bottom has no swagger, instead playing like yet another instance of indie band quirk.
Beyond the vocals, however, Night Moves isn’t so derivative of British glam. The band’s conglomeration of sounds adds some glitz to more barebones Americana, with a touch of disco for good measure. The debut album, Colored Emotions, first self-released and now updated for Domino Records, sounds like a late night shimmering disco heard from the street. You can imagine a glittery party that is getting to its drunken ending, with people slow dancing, or rather leaning on one another, ties undone, shirts untucked, hair disheveled, makeup smeared, trying to find a warm place to spend the night.
Colored Emotions has the feel of a concept album or even a rock opera (though its content is on a minor scale): the sum of the album is greater than its parts. Only a few songs stick out on their own, with the highlights in the emotionally ranging “Old Friends” and the catchy synthesized payoff of the final, title track. Instead of a collection of singles, each song develops an element nascent from the beginning, “Headlights,” into a deeper exploration. The downside of this is that all the songs begin to blur together.
The trio does know how to give its songs little touches though that reward repeat listening. Thanks might be due to Mark Ritsema, the credited multi-instrumentalist band member, for a banjo that cuts through the shimmering haze or a nice country lick to bring out a melodic line. Still these texturing moments get drowned out by Pelant’s overbearing style, which inches towards baby-talk. His go-to vocal tic, from the warble to a falsetto whine permeates every song. At first, this quality is nice; by the end of the album, it starts to wear thin. Pelant hasn’t yet earned his Bolan bona fides. Despite this, Night Moves is a promising band, with an ear for arrangement and good ideas. But some new moves are needed to make it to daybreak.