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Artist:
Moss Jaw

Album:
Embody

Released:
April 26, 2019

Artist Location:
Kalamazoo, MI


“Moss Jaw’s social media describes their work as “compositionally dynamic, organic soundscapes cultivated by four pals from Kalamazoo, MI.” That’s a pretty good summation, but after spending some time with ‘Embody,’ the word that most comes to mind is “haunting.”

The record introduces itself with electronic instrumentation, evoking a strong sense of nostalgia. However, a more organic soundscape quickly reveals itself with the introduction of guitars and a live drum kit. Primary vocalist Kayley Kerastas’ wandering voice quickly jumps to the front of my attention even in its slightly subdued state; each instrument is given its place of equal importance, resulting in the vocals being lower in the mix than expected. This gives them a distant and pleasant feeling to me. I catch myself with her voice singing inside my head throughout the day which adds to the ghostly feeling. A quiet male voice belonging to keyboardist and guitarist Russell “The Brick” Wagner also appears on occasion. The two compliment each other so well that I sometimes can’t tell if the second voice is really there or if my mind is inventing it.

It would be easy to focus entirely on the vocals, but the unit really shines as a whole. I’m reminded of Pacific Northwest bands from around the 2000s with the occasional tiptoe towards post-rock. They pull off a songwriting style that’s often attempted and rarely done well. Each instrument could be heard as a separate melody coming together to form a cohesive whole, and that includes the drums. I’m absolutely fascinated by the drums on this thing, courtesy of Evan Asher. It’s rare to hear such inventive rhythms that enhance instead of distract. All of that along with a slight angularity to the guitars reminds me of Captain Beefheart, though the comparisons stop there. All the instruments play very smoothly, often fading out rather than approaching anything abrupt.

They’ve added a lot more atmospherics to their sound that had me baffled as to their origin. I assumed there was some heavy studio trickery going on here. After hunting down live videos to see how much of a difference there is between the songs being played live and on this recording, I am surprised to learn there’s not much of a difference. It’s obvious that every single sound has been carefully thought through. There are some of the more obvious things like bassist Max Murray switching to keyboards or baritone guitar depending on what fits the song better, and there are tiny things such as cymbal hits being played in reverse, apparently the result of sampled elements created by Wagner. Each decision creates its maximum impact, resulting in a record sure to haunt you for much time to come.”
-Chris Cowdrey, Already Dead Tapes, 2019

Cassette Edition of 100
Art by Olivia Mendoza