The Conch – moe.
Even when they were recording in their buddy's Buffalo apartment, moe. has always made pretty groovy albums. Rarely have they been afraid to experiment, from their early live/studio hybrid Loaf to the conceptual segues of Wormwood. Their newest, The Conch, follows those paths and more, ultimately leading moe. down a breadcrumb trail that lands them, unfortunately and uncomfortably, to a place almost in the middle of the road. The quintet sometimes sound like a random strum-happy jamband one might encounter at the long-closed Wetlands opening up for, well, moe..
In places, this works to their advantage. "Lost Along the Way" vibes along pleasantly, properly elegiac and twangy. "There wasn't a sound except for the rush of blood inside your head," Al Schnier and Chuck Garvey harmonize evocatively on the chorus (catchy either on its own terms or, perhaps, because it sounds like Phish's "Dirt"). Unfortunately, after a sparkling, entwined guitar duet between the two, which would've been a perfect ending, the tune edges into predictable jamband histrionics and a final chorus whose primary drama comes from Schnier's voice being cranked up in the mix.
Like Wormwood, The Conch is littered with tantalizing one-minute interstitals — including the chaos-happy title cut, the brief jam on "Tubing the River Styx," the mysterious Talking Heads-like chanting of "y eaux Massa," and the dripping trip-hop of "The Col" — but most just set-up more plodding, mid-tempo hippie pop. The introduction and subsequent verses to the album-closing "Brittle End" are sparse and beautiful. Without the drums, Rob Derhak’s melody might even approach shimmering Radiohead territory. The drums, which recall the needless thunder of 1980s Jerry Garcia ballads, prevent the song from reaching the ethereal, lashing it to a platonic arena somewhere.
There's intra-song experimentation, too, though it is often buried, like the warm electronic textures burbling too far below the surface of Derhak's bongo-dehanced suicide meditation "Another One Gone," and the unneeded news samples tucked below an otherwise fantastic guitar breakdown on "Tailspin." Chuck Garvey's "Wind It Up," meanwhile, alternates between half-speed "You Enjoy Myself" ballet and a mellow electronic groove (eventually delivering on the former). Where the album rocks, though, it only does so in quotation marks: "Tailspin" and "The Pit" both boogie meancingly, but neither rises on its hind legs. Besides a good use of Jim Loughlin's vibraphone on the latter, both eventually just sound like Widespread Panic. Fuck that.
Like every moe. album, The Conch is packed with ideas. If it is lacking, it is only through lethargy — but that might not be a turn-off for some. For better or worse, moe. sound unquestionably like themselves, from Al Schnier’s nasal voice and weedlephonic guitar, to Jim Loughlin’s melodic percussion counterpoints. They’re a jamband, and they sound like a jamband. And that’s alright, but — given how much they have going on in their music — they could be so much, um, mo’.