A post-rock homage to the rich vein of cinematic western music, Matt Schneider’s Moon Bros. offers a warm kind of cool.
Matt Schneider, a veteran of the Chicago post-rock community, is the man behind the curtain of Moon Bros., whose new album These Stars announces the arrival of a still-forming but promising artistic vision. Joined on the record by Dan Bitney (of Tortoise), Matt Lux (Iron & Wine), and Sam Wagster (Cairo Gang), Schneider has crafted a neo-Western folk-noir record. Like the lone, soaring bird on its cover, the songs on These Stars simultaneously evoke motion and isolation.
Schneider sings in a drawl, drawing out notes over a spare acoustic and echoing steel guitar on opener “These Stars”, a song of resettlement. It passes at lullaby pace, amplified by the closing lines “I will go downstairs and wish you all goodnight”. A shuffling snare and interwoven guitars support a train whistle-like harmonica in “Pitch”, another song of movement or transition. The easy pace of the album’s songs betrays a spirit of restlessness. The close of “Pitch” hints at this, with the lyrics done, the musicians continue on through a sequence of false stops, intuiting that ending is not necessarily closure. The instrumental “El Conejo” follows with a galloping, and refreshing, restlessness.
The underlying shrillness of the steel guitar matches Schneider’s high, keening vocals to amplify the sense of isolation in “Oh So Cold”. The landscape evoked is one of vast flatness, a western landscape where land and horizon form an indistinct border and the promise of shelter is a long way off. Another instrumental, “Corrido”, with its lonely wind-blown bell accompaniment in the opening echoes the mood of long, lonely travel; the pace of the song quickens into a salsa dance, with a promise of arrival. “Wool Blankets” opens with the declaration “Well, I never really know why I’m sitting here”, mixing a newfound sense of warmth with an uneasiness of place. The six-minute “Blues” picks up the theme of motion again, its high-string picking evoking quick passage as in a river journey. The album closes with “AC:DC” and its oceanic waves of flamenco-like guitar runs.
Schneider’s work calls to mind fellow Chicagoan Darren Richards’ band Pinetop Seven, whose sequence of records at the turn of the millennium mined a similar vein of western-inflected country-folk blended with a postmodern sensibility. It can be a delicate balancing act, fusing the ironic detachment of a post-rock sensibility to a beloved musical subgenre, but Moon Bros. pulls it off without seeming insincere.
These Stars is a promising debut and one that rewards repeated listens. There is warmth in this coolness.