Taking disparate musical influences and shaping them into something new and/or fresh is an art many bands profess proficiency in, but few ever truly master. Collect a nickel for every group that claims its music is “impossible to define” and you’ll be a millionaire. Then there are The New Red Moons, who make no such claims to groundbreaking originality, but nonetheless mix and match their influences to great effect. A 2011 self-titled debut LP introduced a band that was a little bit roots and a little bit rock, and who stood out thanks to the impressive vocal cords of singer-songwriter Joe McIlheran. The new Mesmérisme sticks to that original formula but improves the ingredients: songwriting, musicianship, and production all get a boost here. Mesmérisme falters a bit in the middle, but it does establish a solid baseline for well-rendered, affectionate, and earnest Milwaukee rock in 2014.
So about those influences: Opener “Act Of Creation” may be all-organic, but it borrows some of its melody and ethereal vibe from OK Computer-era Radiohead (especially “No Surprises”), resulting in a song that resides in a pleasingly hazy alt-rock twilight zone. It’s a trick McIlheran and company pull off throughout the album. “Settle Down” is a holy-roller blues and classic-rock stomper with a deliberately off-kilter chorus; “How Strange It Seems” and “In The Woods” are harmony-drenched, stripped-down ballads that are aimed at the rafters; and lead single “You Can Run” is the kind of brash, swagger-filled blues-rock song most bands shy away from these days (save for big-timers like The Black Keys). A few tracks in the album’s midsection float by without making much impact, but McIlheran’s expressive voice and a full, unfussy production make things go down easy.
Ultimately, The New Red Moons are at their best when they loosen up. Instantly lovable closer “This Can’t Be The End” ends Mesmérisme on an unexpected light (and high) note, with McIlheran simultaneously channeling an old time-y music hall crooner and Jonathan Richman at his most theatrical. “Somebody told me that life isn’t fair / I should have listened / This can’t be the end” the singer laments before launching into a jaunty whistle. “This Can’t Be The End” also comes off as an unlikely, peppy roots-rock take on Vera Lynn’s classic torch song “We’ll Meet Again.” (Again with those disparate influences.) That song was famously used as an ironic farewell in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, providing a score to nothing less than the end of the world. There’s nothing ironic about Mesmérisme or The New Red Moons, however—and that’s a good thing. Wide-eyed optimism and an unlikely stable of influences serve this band well.
The New Red Moons celebrate the release of Mesmérisme Friday, July 11 at Club Garibaldi. Steven Look and The Union Suits open the show.
- “This Can’t Be The End”
- “You Can Run”
- “Act Of Creation”