Wednesday 22 July 2015

Moa Bones - Spun

Article by James Grimshaw

The singularly small-minded compulsion to invoke the Greek financial crisis in discussion of Moa Bones’ sophomore album is one I’ve been wrestling with in the composition of this review, unfair as it is to the artist and music with which the troubles bear little figurative relation. It is with trembling hands, then, that I let go of the news, and all of the smarmy lines I could have drawn from recession to singer-songwriter (however clever they might have been), and instead pull focus to the rightful protagonist of this piece: Moa Bones, a.k.a.: Dimitris Aronis. 'Spun' was entirely written, produced and recorded by the man behind the nom-de-plume in his Athens bedroom between the months of August 2014 and January 2015, with the exception of some guest harmonica on one track. From this decidedly lo-fi approach, one might usually expect the kinds of hiss, fuzz and smothering reverbs you’d find in a Youth Lagoon demo or a poorly-mixed Grouper album. But Aronis manages instead to produce an unanticipated freshness, where the drums sizzle, vocals float and instruments reside in their own special places; he sidesteps the murky precepts of his contemporaries.

A perhaps unwanted side effect of that is that attention is brought specifically to the production. The more obvious lo-fi moments can no longer be considered artistic quirks but instead genuine mistakes; to strive for the clear, sharp sound that Aronis does is to aim for a certain professional standard which sadly cannot be reached in a bedroom, and isn’t reached by 'Spun'. It’s a small thing, but 'Spun' is caught in an unfortunate catch-22: too well-produced to be truly, enjoyable lo-fi; too lo-fi to be audiophilically slavered over. The album is interlaced with a certain bluesy swank, shifted into a major key and often brings to mind an impassioned Paolo Nutini rabbit-hopping before the microphone. Indeed, much of the album seems to take notes from the excitable pop star – 'Spun'’s opener ‘The Journey’ is a bombastic start, subsuming the riches-to-rags blues-storytelling tradition in the poppy gloss of his production, while later track ‘Hey’ rests on the swing-folk stereotypes through which Nutini is perhaps best understood, bringing in some good old-fashioned bluegrass and calling to mind a well-adjusted nephew of Seasick Steve.

Between and beyond these two tracks, though, are thoroughly darker moments in the music. ‘Take It All Away’ is an album highlight; it swings and swoons with the laze of Howling Bells and the grumble of Mark Lanegan, building into a dense wall of instrumentation drawing Phil Spector’s loudest to mind. ‘Long For A Change’, ‘Skopelitis’ and ‘Come On’ signify a gear-shit down into stripped singer-songwriter fare, each demonstrating a certain competence – ‘Come On’ is another album highlight in its tenderness of concept and construction. It is with these quieter moments that Aronis’ production is most flattering, as vocal harmonies and organ accompaniments elicit a warmth not found in those Spector-moments that pepper the work. Closing track ‘Wake Up’ is a hopeful song, with the ochre of '60s Americana muddled in with modern taste. In all, 'Spun' is an odd one. At times it can be a little saccharine, but these times are made up for by moments of genuine and unique inspiration. It’s a promising sophomore, for sure.

Moa Bones' website

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