THE MOVING STILLS
Wabi Sabi (Sureshaker)
In the mid-70s an Australian band may or may not have sung: "Pop is not a dirty word, don't you believe what you've seen or you've heard". For decades pop was a dirty word in this country (exactly as it wasn't in my native Britain). In mainstream pubs harmonies were sacrificed for riffs, and on the alternative circuit melodic hooks were watered down for fear of losing "indie" cred. But now, finally, there is an Australian band that actually believes that mis-quoted Skyhooks lyric. This is Pop, this is The Moving Stills.
The proof of the pudding is in Wabi-Sabi: 10 slices of delicious melody served over music that sits firmly in "indie" territory. Izaac Wilson's superb production ensures that while vocal melodies are to the fore the music is never dominated by them. Guitars sit proud (variously spiky or washy as the song demands) swaddled in glorious marshmallowy drums, thick creamy bass, and billowing clouds of harmonies. Wilson isn't averse to adding a light dusting of artificial vocal effects (including some archly applied autotuning on 'The Lesson') and some well-judged synth treatments. The end result is music that is both "pop" and "alternative", that never runs the risk of being ghettoised as "indie-pop".
Of course production means nothing without great songs and good performances. And here the band really delivers. Tom Mahler's relaxed vocal delivery is perfectly judged, chilled without ever sounding blasé. A surprisingly key element on Wabi Sabi is Brad Guthmann's bass - he really knows how to drive a song forward without forcing it. The tension created when Guthmann's bass pushes against Mahler's vocal delivery gives the Moving Stills's pop even more pop. Singling out Mahler and Guthmann in no way diminishes the contribution of guitarist/vocalist Mike Drennan and drummer Ben Day. They both shine in their respective roles, and perhaps deserve even more credit for serving the song rather than seeking the spotlight. Drennan proves to be a versatile guitarist who at times channels Edwyn Collins's pioneering indie- funk playing (notably on "I Got You").
In an album full of high-points it's hard to pick the pinnacle. The opening one-two punch of 'Sunshine' and 'Westside' is hard to top, but in the end my vote has to go to the closing track 'Volcano'. It has a chorus that evokes New Order's finest moments without sounding at all like them - quite a feat. My only criticism of Wabi Sabi is one common to most pop albums, even classics like Teenage Fanclub's 'Grand Prix': listening to the entire record at once may just be too much of a good thing.
In olden times albums were conveniently broken into two sides on a slice of vinyl - the perfect way to serve up this style of music. It has always been my preference to consume a single side of pure pop at a sitting, and thankfully The Moving Stills have given us the opportunity to do just that with a limited run of tasty banana-yellow vinyl. So grab one while you can, slap your chosen side onto the platter, and settle in for a musical feast.