The appeal of this lo-fi folk-influenced Americana album by Moon Bros lies predominantly on the dextrous skill of carpenter/musician Matt Schneider's guitar playing. Whether it's providing the foundation for his voice, or indulging on lengthy instrumental wig outs, it's the main calling card. There's shades of Gustavo Santalallo at times, and Nick Drake at others - he's an intimidatingly accomplished player. This explains the top-notch musicians who were drawn to recorded These Stars with him. There's members of Iron and Wine, Tortoise, and Cairo Gang on the record adding bass, lap steel and drums.
Schneider is no stranger to the lives the above collaborators have led as touring musicians. Before recording as Moon Bros, he was a part of the Chicago post rock underground, and toured Europe. But, after that he sought solace in the Illinois countryside in order to sharpen his playing, orignally only intending a short hiatus. But a complete abandonment of touring altogether happened and he became a carpenter and recorded, in the shadows of the industry, under the name Moon Bros with constantly shifting line ups. It's a drastic change in style that wouldn't be achieved in an urban setting.<br<br
The release of These Stars, however, represents the boldest step into the limelight since his early days on the road. It's the first Moon Bros album first to get international release. Contrast that with the outcome of his first three albums, which the press release claims are lost forever as the cd-r's have crushed in a tool box. The two LPs before this, meanwhile, didn't get a label and outside of small in-the-know circles are pretty unknown.
Despite this current label support, the recording comes across in unflinchingly as Schneider co-ordinating his own thing - there's no fancy production here, no pandering to international expectations of what an album should achieve. It simply conveys what it would be like to stumble these four musicians playing the deepest, most meditative live set they can manage. It's the sound of musicians huddled around a campfire bawling their hearts out under the stars with a bottle of straight bourbon.
As an album, it's divided into eight tracks but there's no sense of division whilst listening to it, it's one of the most seamless pieces of music I've come across all year. But if I'm to pick out highlights, 'Corrido' is stunning. It's got that wistful out-in-the-middle of nowhere feel and a Gustavo Santalalo-circa Motorcycle Diaries-esque style. On the album cover there's a bird of prey and the sound of this cut could represent the chase the bird goes on in hunting its prey. Also, opener 'These Stars' has a quavering emotional tenderness, and it's how I imagine Thom Yorke would sound, if only he was an American carpenter living out in the sticks surrounded by Bill Fay records.
Penultimate cut, 'Blues', is a strong instrumental passage, coming across completely improvised, and I hear him letting his heart guide his hands, rather than any sense of musical influence driving proceedings. This is an immense exuding of energy, and it's an up-tempo progression that would make for a thrilling live moment. Elsewhere,'Wool Blankets' depicts some of the starkest lyrical imagery and recalls Tom Waits somewhat. The line: I woke up and summer had been, is brutal, and sums up the overriding mood, as the lap steel weeps along to in devastating glory. But don't jump to any of these songs mentioned. It's best to let These Stars wash over you in the set order given, and discover one of America's lesser known, yet more powerful musical talents.
7Cai Trefor's Score