The pickup toggle switch settings on Chris Larsen’s custom-made “Crossroadsgirl” model art guitar read “famous/obscure”, a sly commentary on the two types of perceived “success” attainable in the music business. It’s a tough choice, to be sure—limit your recognition to a small audience in favor of artistic freedom, or go for instant gratification and all the earthly pleasures that come along with it. It’s also a dilemma that countless artists have faced in varying degrees of metaphor in the near-century since Robert Johnson made his fabled visit to that lonely fork in the Mississippi road.
The Mobius Band (guitarist/vocalist Ben Sterling, bassist/vocalist Peter Sax, and drummer Noam Schatz) appears to have reached a similar precipice in its young career—a band seemingly on the verge of something big, sitting at the point where decisions both artistic and marketing-oriented can determine its entire course from here on out. Having built a solid reputation on the strength of three self-released EPs that introduced its organic brand of electronically enhanced rock to a steadily growing audience, the group has followed a deliberately slow trajectory, almost as if gauging the response to each before planning its next move.
The press material for The Loving Sounds of Static—the Mobius Band’s first full-length LP—makes much of Sax and Sterling’s recent relocation from longtime home base of Shutesbury, Massachusetts to Brooklyn to “alleviate the boredom”; the title of City vs. Country, a “primer” EP released earlier this year, also alludes to said alleviation. So it would appear, then, that all the necessary elements are in place: move to Big City, mixing work done by same dude who worked with Interpol (Peter Katis), EP generating buzz for full-length record… Problem is, it all fits together a little too neatly.
Listening to Loving Sounds in the context of the group’s earlier EPs, it’s clear they’ve spent much time refining their pop songcraft. But by applying a unique production aesthetic—one that that straddles the electronic and the analog with incredibly sophisticated balance—to such concise song structures, the band ends up achieving little more than a familiar hike down the trail that’s already been blazed by Manitoba/Caribou, M83, or even Radiohead, for that matter. The City vs. Country analogy also takes on greater importance, as the band has all but obliterated much of the rural space that made their EPs so fascinating—a fact that “Taxicab”, a track resurrected from the 2 EP, drives home all too well in its current incarnation.
But for listeners with perspectives untainted by the group’s previous work, Loving Sounds will likely offer plenty of sounds to love: the Krautrocking forward surge of the title track and “Doo Wop”, a fine pop song riding on the axis of a dissonant guitar riff, are as strong as anything their peers have to offer, even if sequential listeners have to plod through “Close the Door”, “You’re Wrong”, and “I Just Turned 18” to get there. A newfound lyrical sensibility also holds great appeal; it’s an area in which the band has shown significant improvement. Both “Twilight” (where Sterling sings “I will teach my children to lie” without a shred of irony) and “Radio Coup”‘s imagining of Mick Jagger’s being shot in the back reveal a playful irreverence that’s light-years beyond the occasionally agonizing couplets found on 2 and 3.
Whether city vs. country or familiarity vs. first exposure, what remains is that The Loving Sounds of Static captures the Mobius Band at a major point of transition. While Sterling, Sax, and Schatz can’t be faulted for making a play toward wider recognition—and they’re obviously talented enough to make it happen—it’s unfortunate that they’ve felt the need to undermine the promise of their entirely self-directed recordings. But like the non-orientable surface from which it takes its name, this is a group that resists simple categorization; watching where they go in the wake of this CD’s release should be interesting to say the least.