Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Moon Taxi Takes It To Different Places

Moon Taxi
For the members of Moon Taxi, Mountains Beaches Cities is an exploratory album that dials back on the sonic landscape of their last album, Cabaret. They have a new aesthetic instead, one with a faster tempo, bigger sound and more soulful leanings.

They didn't dial back to their earlier days as a jam band, but they have hit upon the pop-rock groove that they wanted. Although the album is being distributed with the help of BMI, Mountains Beaches Cities was self-produced by Spencer Thomson (guitar) with an assist from Wes Bailey (keyboards).

They had some outside help, with Vance Powell (Jack White, The Dead Weather) mixing and Greg Calbi (Talking Heads, Paul Simon, Fleet Foxes) mastering the album. Tyler Ritter sums it up as an evolution, inspired by their time on the road.

Mountains Beaches Cities was created on the road. 

They were on the road in support of their last album when this one started coming together. According to the band, the trials of touring provides its own kind of inspiration. It was easy to stockpile song ideas and demos. When the band returned, they holed up in Thomson's apartment to record most of the album.

One of the songs gaining most of the attention is The New Black. Soulful and slightly funky, the track carries a restrained smoothness that almost begs to be more climatic than Moon Taxi ever lets it become. But maybe that's the point. Moon Taxi makes it more aloof than any other band might have made it.

Lyrically, the song is straightforward too. Trevor Terndrup almost sounds hushed as he sings about finding the next big thrill — the new black — after all those other blacks feel old and maybe boring.

Along with The New Black, Running Wild makes for a great must listen. It is relaxed, even if the lyrics suggest something different. The basic idea is that everyone is running wild but it might be worthwhile to slow down and drink it in before the world stops spinning and the music stops.

It's all right. The 80s throwback Morocco is much more interesting, with its hooky instrumentals and lyrical daydreams about a place that none of the band members have ever been. It's nostalgic in making the destination sound exotic again. River Water feels equally nostalgic, conjuring up images of a soft rock sound from simpler times. So does Young Journey, with its folky acoustic sensibilities.

When sampling the album, listen to the bonus tracks My Own Mistakes and Silent Underground. They're more experimental than most tracks on the album, each of them on opposite sides of the spectrum for this Nashville-based band. It's all right to wish more of the album followed these tracks.

Where Moon Taxi has to be more careful is that they already think that they're so seasoned that they fully understand themselves and their music. It's a dangerous place to be for most bands — that moment when confidence has caught up to their musicianship — because nobody wants their confidence to eclipse it.

It's been great to see Moon Taxi evolve from a jam band and settle into a bigger and considerably more even sound. At the same time, Mountains Beaches Cities misses on the robust diversity that made Cabaret a great listen on the lighter side of rock. Even with the occasional proggy elements, this album moves them more toward indie pop.

The bottom line is that this is a masterful album for what they set out to do, with The New Black, My Own Mistakes, Silent Underground, and Running Wild accounting for the must-have tracks. I'm on the fence with Morocco and Young Journey, especially because the latter is almost too damn pretty for its own good.

Mountains Beaches Cities By Moon Taxi Samples 3.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

There isn't any doubt that Moon Taxi has talent, but they are dangerously close to not being hungry enough. Despite several great tracks recommended for some welcome playlist diversity, expect Moon Taxi to work harder at adding some robustness for live performances. For an album about the trials and tribulations of touring, there is a surprising lack of turbulence here. It's much more kick back and relax.

You can catch Mountains Beaches Cities by Moon Taxi on Amazon. You can also find the CD at Barnes & Noble or download the track from iTunes. Moon Taxi will be touring the Midwest in September before heading South. For tour date information, visit the band on Facebook.
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