The Conch- moe.
[Site editor’s Note: This is our second review of The Conch. Our CD Review editor was not serviced with this disc, yet being the driven, committed person that he is, Mr. Jarnow took the initiative, sought out a copy and reviewed it for our January issue. Meanwhile, Mr. Turner did receive a copy of The Conch along with my go-ahead to review it. So in fairness to everyone’s time and effort, we offer his review this month]
Order and civility are the chief menu items here, which should be no surprise to fans of the _Lord of the
Flies_. The Conch is a symbol from the William
Golding novel which moe. utilizes to indicate its own search for order and civility. The band offers a healthy dose of very strong, meaningful songs in concise fashion on this release – remember kids, if you want extended jams, there are about 1,000 shows available for download on this here Internet.
However, it is their subtle commentary on the need for order in todays increasingly chaotic world that
resonates most stromgly. Compelling
writing, an excellent mix (capturing a big sound and with solid rhythms) and superior instrumentals make this moe.’s strongest studio effort to date.
The “Motown in a breezeway” lead track “Blue Jeans Pizza” is the most appropriate vehicle to date for moe.’s frequently used Rob Derhak-led falsetto voicing style (which has been hit and miss over the years).
This song also sets up the ones to follow with its warmth and lyrical mentions of things uniquely American – Curious George, Harry Carey, the Fourth of July and hey – take a look at the title.
These references come to mind a couple of tracks later when the title track opens with a piano that references the central melody of “Blue Jeans Pizza” before falling into sonic confusion. Hot on the heels of this is the most lyrically incisive composition in moe.
history (which in turn gives way to a run of songs that are the crux of The Conch). “Tailspin” charges out of the gate like Seattle Slew at the Kentucky Derby (or like a young Grateful Dead attacking “Cream Puff War”). Guitarist Al Schnier’s anguish is palpable as he wails, “Ok, what you say you lied about now” or “democracy, the shining sea, the seeds are sown.“ The urgently-delivered verses are split by craftily breakneck guitar work. The band uses contrast again, as a psychedelic flavored interlude mingles with circa-2003 Bush snippets about “sound intelligence” and such – creating a surreal moment of
reflection. Here moe. make its point in a very
creative and powerful fashion without giving the slightest sense of being preachy. One gets the sense that they are implying America had the conch and dropped it.
“The Pit” follows (after a brief thematically-linked instrumental with a title appropriately alluding to the myths of Hades, “Tubing The River Styx”) with bassist Derhak bluntly describing a descent to hell over a grinding rhythm. “Another One Gone” is one of just three songs on this release that has brief moments of lyrical clumsiness. However, it smartly uses Kurt Cobain as a symbol for lost souls carrying the feeling of being disenfranchised from the power structure of todays world.
“Wind It Up” is guitarist Chuck Garvey’s compositional entrance to The Conch, and the lyrics indicate a more personal quest for order and civility. This begins a string of songs that find their authors looking within. “Wind It Up” shares a lyric with Neil Young’s “Down By The River: “Be on my side, I’ll be on your
side.” However, rather than putting a bullet in his lady and plopping her in the river, the voice of “Wind It Up” seeks reconciliation by recalling initial attraction (“meet me where the sun rises”), looking for common ground (“we’re of the same mind”) and asking for a new start (“let’s give the clock another wind”). The song builds to a triumphant guitar solo that seems to indicate resolution, and the final chorus is echoed by an audience-only reprise recorded at Portland, Maine’s State Theater in
June of 2005.
It seems as though the conch is set aside for the scathing “Down Boy” (even though the Lord of the Flies
is mentioned in the song). Derhak sings with a
sleepy fire, directing his ire at a certain corduroy-wearing, party-loving, money-grubbing, mind-messing, out of line-stepping soul that he knew for six years, which were “six too long, now you are gone.” So much for civility, but it is a very entertaining song which is perhaps so harsh because the target was the source of some disorder.
Musically, the song is punctuated by airtight drum work from the often overlooked, but always rock solid Vinnie Amico.
While the rest of the disc is still a great listen, it doesn’t quite stand up to the stunning ten tracks that kick off The Conch. “The Road” will delight highway warriors (“I gotta get away from here, I gotta get back to the road.”). The back-and-forth between a sweet-toned guitar and Jim Loughlin’s typically spot-on vibe work sets the stage for a supremely joyous guitar solo that made me want to go crank up my car and drive to wherever the road took me.
The drawbacks are few. Schnier’s “She” is refreshingly sensitive, but almost too derivative, and
even wanders into Beatle-light territory. The
plaintive “Where Does The Time Go,” features the moving lyric, “I lift up my feet every time I cross those railroad tracks. I’m not superstitious it just reminds me of you” which gains strength from Garvey’s emotive delivery, but some of the verses don’t flow as well. Derhak misses the target with the vague “Summer O I” and almost hits one out of the park on the elegant “The Brittle End,” (featuring a nice Pink Floyd “Brain Damage” feel) which is adorned with a sweetly bowed bass. However, the final verse slightly derails the song’s effectiveness.
However, if you would like to know why moe. has gone from the little band that played Broadway Joe’s pub to one of the leading beacons in the jam scene, sit down and listen to the second track “Lost Along The Way.”
Over eleven years after the death of Jerry Garcia, one of the most sorely missed musical elements of the jam world is the well-written, soulfully delivered ballad. Schnier brings forth the wizened lyrics of this piece with a heartfelt croon – conveying mesmeric emotion succinctly with lines such as, “there wasn’t a sound except for the rush of blood inside your head.” A delicate interlude prepares the palette for a rousing final instrumental that culminates with a repeated guitar riff which ultimately locks in snugly with the
muscle of moe.’s rhythm section.
Every band has its struggles – and each one’s success or lack thereof lies in how tough situations are handled. This tenth studio release evidences that moe. has matured into a very well-functioning unit, fully prepared to stand together and face whatever is thrown its way.
Robert Turner would like to thank Reed Cornelison for his assistance in preparing for this review.