Release Date: Sep 14, 2010
Record label: Hardly Art Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, American Trad Rock
Seattle's the Moondoggies did a lot of growing up between their first album, 2008's Don't Be a Stranger, and 2010's sophomore effort Tidelands, or at least that's the way it sounds; the jovial, ramshackle quality of the debut has given way to something far more ambitious, atmospheric, and artful without losing sight of the rootsy charm that made the first set memorable. Don't Be a Stranger was a likable collection of songs, but on Tidelands, the Moondoggies clearly set out to make an album, and these ten tunes work as individual pieces while cohering into a whole where the whole is more than the sum of the parts, and the playful, down-home flavor has been leavened with a full-bodied sound and widescreen production. Caleb Quick's keyboards play a more significant role in the arrangements, and the interplay of the overdubbed organ and piano lines recalls the dramatic but emotionally honest sound of the Band, while Kevin Murphy's guitar has gained a welcome bit of sonic muscle, and the harmonies by the group are spot-on and shore up the beauty and dynamics of the arrangements.
Don't Be a Stranger, the Moondoggies' 2008 album, invites us in that title to get to know them. It's a call to gather, to find strength in numbers, and it had a sound to match. From gospel harmonies to extended guitar assaults, the guys ran the rock 'n' roll gamut and came out the other end with a record as current as it was rooted in tradition. Tidelands, that album's follow-up, takes on a distinctly different feel.
If you're putting together a rootsy indie folk band, I can understand choosing a name that involves animals. It makes you sound pantheistic and totally in tune with nature, yet also more primal and badass than if you'd just invoked trees or rivers or something. So-- Fleet Foxes, Band of Horses, Grizzly Bear, Department of Eagles-- I get it.
With West Coast Beardo Rock in ascendance these days—led by Sub Poppers Fleet Foxes and Band of Horses, with the ranks swelling behind them on a seemingly weekly basis—now is as good a time as any for Seattle-ites the Moondoggies (including at least some bearded members) to conjure the lush, majestic, soundtrack-to-mists-parting-in-the-evergreens rock sound… at least until the time machines are up and running, transporting folks back to 1973. The quartet, led by frontman Kevin Murphy, is certainly eager to join the ranks of bands eternally indebted to the Band, or at least the idea of The Band, which is to say the idea of rock ‘n’ roll community and communion. The ‘Doggies’ 2008 debut, Don’t Be a Stranger lived up to the backwoods charm of its title: content to amble but capable of charging ahead when needed (like, say, on “Changing” or “Ol’ Blackbird”), though the band confessed the album lacked thematic cohesion.
Something about the name The Moondoggies reminds me of an old joke from the forgotten 90s sitcom The Critic, but Google informs me that the name comes from an old Sandra Dee beach flick. Is this information pertinent to an assessment of the band and their music? Yes. No. Maybe. It’s an ill ….
A large, blurry rock flanked by obscuring fog that juts from a glassy body of water, with its reflection revealing the rock in sharp focus as backgrounded by a forest of evergreens, the cover art on this bearded Seattle quartet's sophomore release is an apt metaphor for Tidelands. As a cohesive set of songs built to complement one another, from the persistent water imagery to the songs that start and end in the same key, Tidelands creates a song cycle that fuses harmonic, pedal-steeled Americana (Crosby, Stills & Nash are no small influence here) with emotive chamber pop. The centerpiece is easily "Empress of the North," which is so evocative of the damp Pacific Northwest chill, of a drive into the inscrutable trees, of fiddlehead ferns, and of a young man who dreams of his love's red hair.