moe. – What Happened to the La Las

Alright, it’s time for some secret sharing. I don’t normally do this with the anonymous masses, but this is something I must get off my chest: my knowledge of jam bands extends to a dusty copy of Widespread’s Bombs & Butterflies and a couple viewings of Electric Apricot. Whether it’s a genetic disposition or merely a lack of interest, Phish is not something I enjoy seeing on my musical dinner plate. When I picked up moe.’s What Happened to the La Las, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. Being the groups’ first release on Sugar Hill, there was a chance a country vibe, or – parallel to my deepest fantasies – a record somewhat akin to Rapper’s Delight would emerge. To my dismay, the prior was victorious. Although I didn’t get my dreams of hip-hop cowboys, moe.’s latest effort delivers for the prior.

The album opens with “The Bones of Lazarus”, which is not the strongest of choices, but gives the listener a solid idea of what they can expect throughout the album. Biblical references, fun percussion, and casual head-bob feelings are sprinkled throughout and allow the stage to be set for What Happened to the La Las. For “Haze” I’m not gonna lie…the last couple minutes got me more excited than the average song accomplishes. It’s quick pace and showcasing of the group’s instrumental fervor rushing back into the constancy of the song’s first half is a perfect formula.

Three tracks follow this, although I have trouble finding much of significance to discuss about them. One is an eight minute track written by Al Schnier, who allegedly compiled multiple songs into one (“Downward Facing Dog”), and another is a harmony-soaked, easy-going ditty (“Rainshine”). I must give credit where it is due, however, and the use of what I believe to be a glockenspiel on “Smoke” is quirky, out of nowhere, and undeniably creative. In between glock-rocks is a brief moment of peace through a toned-down instrumental, but the track reverts back to normalcy quickly.

“Paper Dragon” is probably the hardest song on the record to peg. Against other songs’ lyrics of feel good moods and religious overtones, the content of this track feels like an excerpt from the Necrnomicon. Lines like, “Faceless stranger, burning light, crying women, no more life,” is a stark counterexample to the rest of this record’s positivity. Regardless, this track impresses through it’s hard-to-peg time signatures, witty chorus, and overall dance-inspiring vibe.

The title for the track “Chromatic Nightmare” is, without a doubt, one of the most appropriate labels I’ve seen on a piece of music in a while. Sounding like a demonic carnival waltz (that being a compliment), the track is an instrumental xylophone piece diving deeply into the realm of a this-sounds-organized-and-unorganized-at-the-same-time kind of sound. Dealing with xylophone means, of course, a heavy focus on chromatic scales, and the group handles it with the utmost finesse.

“One Way Traffic” is a short-but-sweet song that sounds like if Eric Church and Julian Casablancas had a music baby. The verses have the Casablancas mood of lackadaisical pitch-bending vocals, but the song as a whole is deeply rooted in country music. The final song on the album, “Suck A Lemon”, sounds like a watered down mewithoutYou. Devious animal personifications backed by the higher range vocals trick me into believe I’m listening to something straight out of It’s All Crazy! It’s All False! It’s All A Dream! It’s Alright. The moral to the song is one which deserves attention, however, so listen up, heathens.

Overall, if there was a phrase to describe the album, it would be painfully safe. Throughout the album are traces of a band wanting so badly to break out of their own mold and rock the hell out, but always refraining. My challenge for moe.: don’t be afraid to push boundaries. Most of What Happened to the La Las was just slightly more exciting than the discount bread section of my local Kroger, and although I do love cheap sweet rolls, I would like to enjoy my music even more. To take everything and add just a bit less refrain would make for a hard-rocking and dance-crazed album.

Top tracks include “Paper Dragon”, “Suck a Lemon”, and “Haze”.

Rating: ★★★☆☆