Moth is making its bid to be the next big thing in rock and roll. With the debut album, Provisions, Fiction and Gear, Moth just may succeed.
Unlike the efforts of bands like the Strokes and White Stripes, whose style is little more than an updating of the sounds of yesteryear, Moth is content to mine the musical landscape of the present for their sound. Taking bits and pieces of hard rock, various indie styles from both sides of the Atlantic, pop, and even some of the sounds of nu-metal (though, thankfully, very little of the genre’s posturing), Provisions, Fiction and Gear doesn’t so much claim “rock-n-roll isn’t dead!” as it says “rock has become plastic”, and Moth takes an obvious delight in pulling the music in different directions and into some interesting combinations.
Alternately, it’s hard to say whether this makes Moth inventive or just clever. Any number of acts have attempted to merge the Pixies and Weezer and maybe even a little Oasis into one formula, but few manage to do it with any kind of success. The difficulty that these bands, and Moth with them, have in pulling off the stunt is escaping the stigma of being labeled derivative. For their part, Moth tries to avoid this trap by staying loose and mixing a sense of wry humor and intelligence into their music.
The first three tracks on Provisions, Fiction and Gear are the best indication of this sense of play. Aware, perhaps, that rock has become stale in its continual repetition, Moth has decided that the solution is to not stay in one place. It’s not unique and not much of a trick to shift styles from song to song, but continually shifting within each song at least gives the illusion of being unpredictable.
The disc’s first single, “I See Sound”, sets the scene for Moth’s multifaceted rock. Opening with a standard muted vocal and plunked guitar, the song quickly erupts in an explosion of thick bass and hooky riffs. Then it plunges into a speedy vocal delivery. Then skips into a poppy ska beat. Then into a full metal wall of guitars. Rinse and repeat. The style shifts and key changes themselves acts as hooks, meta-hooks if you will, but even within each change-up there’s a real instrumental sense of keeping your attention for every second. “Thinking Please” wavers between a quiet, acoustic series of descending scale verses blended with power-pop choruses that could be Lit or Marvelous 3 or (take your pick of similar), but throws in a tense, hyper-kinetic bridge for good measure. Sounding the most like something you’d find on the radio today, “Thinking Please” has all the right pop and rock elements to help make Moth a hit after the initial impact of “I See Sound”. Then there’s “Hearing Things”, which sounds like Blue Album-era Weezer right down to the moog-like synth lines. However, for all the song’s derivative rock qualities, it features a lovely reverberating chorus that nods to shimmering indie pop in the Brian Wilson vein.
The rest of the album is less schizophrenic, but still moves through such a range of styles and obvious influences that it seems like a catalog of the 1990s and early 2000s. Tracks like “Burning Down My Sanity”, “Cocaine Star”, and “Sleepy” highlight Moth’s preoccupations with tense, guitar-driven rock that could be anywhere between the Flaming Lips and Dinosaur, Jr. The song structures on these tracks are not quite as varied as the album starters, but they all exhibit a keen awareness of how to incorporate hooks to keep the listener interested. “Cocaine Star” in particular manages to approximate an auditory cocaine high, sounding tense, quick, manic and dazed all at once, while lyrically the song grabs you right away with the scary absurdity of the opening “Me and the little woman / Doing lines of coke / Behind the counter / In the comic book store.”
But Moth also displays an ability to produce quieter and more introspective tracks as well in songs like “Leftovers”, “Straight Line”, and “Not Really”. In “Leftovers”, the big crunching bass and feedback give way to acoustics and simple melodies and Brad Stenz’s slick but raw vocals. “Straight Line” and “Not Really” owe an obvious debt to Pink Floyd. Alternating between hushed Roger Waters vocals and Dark Side of the Moon-effects modulated backup singing, Moth invokes the spirit of prog rock’s heyday, even while “Straight Line” marries the form to big power chords and a hard rock sensibility.
Despite being all over the musical map, Provisions, Fiction and Gear is rooted firmly in the rock and roll tradition through its lyrical content. From the rapid-fire vocal delivery on “I See Sound” and “Thinking Please” to the lilting closer “Not Really”, most of the songs here center around loneliness, relationships gone bad, and rock’s greatest love, self-destruction. Even in the surreal landscapes painted in “Last Night’s Dream”, there’s a sense of dark foreboding that carries over into “Cocaine Star” and “Plastics Campaign”. The latter is a track about the dangers and carnivalesque banality of plastic surgery and features a dizzying vocal bridge that rattles off a litany of cosmetic procedures in a disturbing barrage. There’s enough self-loathing and pent up frustration here that I was reminded of a semi-suicidal acquaintance of mine, but Moth plays all this off with a sense of distance, humor and irony that keeps it all from sounding overwhelming. Between the partying and the heartbreak, Moth turns in a quintessentially rock album the fits neatly into the mythos and history of the genre.
One thing that marks Moth as a band worthy of notice is the ability of the musicians involved. Centered on frontman Brad Stenz and guitarist Bob Gayol, Moth benefits from the punk interests of the former and the hard rock leanings of the latter. This combination gives the band its multi-layered sound. However, for the recording of Provisions, Fiction and Gear, Stenz and Goyal found themselves without a rhythm section. Through a recording contract with Virgin, the pair managed to hook up with A Perfect Circle’s Josh Freese and the legendary Tommy Stinson of the Replacements to add drums and bass respectively. Freese and Stinson give the album the grandiose, rumbling foundation that allows Stenz and Goyal’s music to really work, and the production work of Sean Beavan really makes the disc gleam. After the recording was completed, Moth lost its studio musicians in Freese and Stinson, so the band added former Rocket From the Crypt drummer Atom Willard and Hedwig and the Angry Inch‘s bassist Ted Liscinski to the full-time line-up. It will be interesting to see how this change affects the dynamics of subsequent live shows or future albums, but it’s certain that Stenz and Goyal have benefited from having the influence of established professionals in fleshing out the band.
The real problem with Moth, however, is not the ever-changing line-up of musicians. What remains to be seen is whether critics and, more importantly, fans will be able to overlook the similarities between Moth and its influences. On one level, every comparison to other bands is warranted, but on another Stenz and crew do manage to make the sounds their own. There’s enough diversity in this album that something is bound to appeal to just about any fan of rock. But that might also be Moth’s Achilles heel. By being so diverse, the band will either draw a diverse fan base, or it will alienate those who try to pigeon-hole Moth as one thing and are surprised to find them being something else entirely. No matter what happens, though, Moth is a band to watch for. Provisions, Fiction and Gear doesn’t want to save rock and roll, it just wants to rock, and it does so with energy and ease.