Detail of cover illustration from Popular Science magazine, July 1950
You don't hear much about the London band Moose, but when I do hear them mentioned it's usually as part of a list of lesser-known shoegaze bands of the early '90s. I heard good things about their debut album ...xyz from a few different people, so I picked it up a little while ago. It's not really a shoegaze album at all, though. Apparently, Moose started out by releasing several EPs that had all the shoegaze sounds: big effects-laden guitars, prominent booming drums, pulsing basslines, and sing-song nursery-rhyme melodies. But, by the time they got around to releasing a full-length record, Moose had moved on to a more accessible pop sound.
The first indicator you get that ...xyz is not a shoegaze record is in the pristine jangle-pop production provided by power-pop guru Mitch Easter. The songs on ...xyz also have a largely acoustic bent, with some prominent country-music sounds in the mix. The songs are quite accessible and poppy, but they might seem a little flat if not for the shoegaze influences that still lurk in the songs' corners. Weird guitar sounds and droney strumming underpin these almost-too-vanilla compositions in a way that makes them more engaging. The single "Little Bird (Are You Happy in Your Cage?)" is a clear standout on the album, but I also like the band's cover of "Everybody's Talking", as well as "Soon Is Never Soon Enough", which features the distractingly distinctive backing vocals of a pre-Cranberries Dolores O'Riordan.
One of the best things about the Cherry Red 2009 reissue of ...xyz is that it appends the Sonny & Sam EP to the end of the record. This seven-track EP contains the best of the early shoegaze EPs that Moose put out, and they provide a nice counterpoint to the proper album, showing just how much the band decided to change their sound early on. Some of these EP tracks are great, but I actually find Moose's post-shoegaze stuff just as interesting. A song like "Don't Bring Me Down" is a good example of the band's interesting approach - a droning strummed guitar provides the foundation, but a sprightly acoustic/country arrangement sits on top of it, reminiscent of a lightweight mid-period Jesus & Mary Chain. Like a lot of Moose songs, it doesn't really have an in-your-face pop hook, so it's more "pleasant" than "exciting". Still nice, though.
"Don't Bring Me Down" by Moose