Lately, I’ve really been enjoying dumb rock music. But only if it’s smart dumb music. What I mean by this is music with big, obvious hooks and lyrics that are intentionally, winkingly juvenile. Clearly, there’s a subtle difference between smart dumb music and stupid dumb music. The latter is puerile because its creators are puerile. The former, however, is brilliant because the folks making smart dumb music probably could write intricate and mopey songs that deal with Kafkaesque themes, but they know that it’s more fun to make catchy rock songs about sex. I like to think I’m smart enough to consistently know the difference between these two kinds of dumb music. Or maybe I’m just stupid enough to be delusionally self-aggrandizing and not care. Either way, I can confidently declare Moth to be smart and able architects of deliciously dumb indie rock.
Immune to Gravity is their fifth album, but don’t go kicking yourself if the name of this Cincinnati rock quartet is only vaguely familiar. I can’t find a discography that mentions what their first two albums might be, and their fourth album, Drop Deaf (2004), has been all but lost to obscurity (although it is available through eMusic.com). Their third album, 2002’s Provisions, Fiction and Gear, however, was released by Virgin. Yes, Moth has played for the big boys. They played, and, I would imagine, they lost. Virgin dropped them after that one record, so sales must have been poor. But the A&R man who discovered Moth, Todd Sullivan, remained a fan. When he started his own label, Hey Domingo!, he snatched them back up. In fact, Immune to Gravity is that label’s inaugural release.
It would appear that Sullivan, too, knows the magic of smart dumb music. After all, he’s cutting the ceremonial ribbon to his new venture with buzzing guitars and slashing cymbal crashes, and incisively dim-witted lyrical gems like “Girl on, girl on, girl on girl gonna rock my world”. Singer, guitarist, and lyricist Brad Stenz can get away with this moronic chorus because: (a) the verses are campily semi-spoken character sketches of the girls in question; (b) the melody is catchy like the flu; (c) he gets his come-uppance later in the song when the girls leave him “high and dry”. Similarly, the band gets away with concocting an album whose ingredients are extracted from the best bands of the past thirty years. The verses to “Supermodel” are pure Television, and the chorus is a mix of Fountains of Wayne and the Cars. The album’s opener, a punchy rocker called “Helpless”, marries the poppiest moments of Nirvana and Pixies. And pretty much every song sounds a bit like Weezer, although Moth’s hooks are more succinct. It would be easy, actually, to reflexively label Moth’s sound as dated. Their big, crunchy guitars are most certainly of the ‘90s. But, underneath this thick, alt-rock patina, Moth are in the same class of upbeat, post-punked, new wavy revivalists as Franz Ferdinand and the Bravery. Check out those hip-shakin’ grooves on songs like “Sticks and Stones” and “Put Her Down”. Let’s see, have I left out any influences? Oh, right: Pavement. In a tune like “Constantly On”, with Brad Stenz screaming the titular phrase, he sounds like a young Stephen Malkmus barking out phrases like “two states!” or “no big hair!”. At other times, Stenz also often shares S.M.‘s wry, smirking vocal delivery.
Clearly, Moth are not out to reinvent the wheel. But, even while sounding like a score of other bands, they still sound great. And, because they’re having fun and not taking themselves too seriously, their music steers clear of feeling imitative; instead, it is a series of homages to their forefathers. Mostly, though, Immune to Gravity is simply a fun and consistently strong album of gloriously dumb, but really quite smart, indie rock music.
// Notes from the Road
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