There is always a “but.”
The Conch succeeds because it has well crafted songs with just enough studio polish to make them sound clean – yet not so clean they lose the aggression they have live. For every band that makes their living live on stage and has trouble translating their essence to the studio, there is a moe., who has wrestled with these demons and won.
On their last album, Wormwood, they came up with the solution of recording most of the basic tracks on stage in front of a crowd. This idea worked very well, as Wormwood had that studio shine, but that live feel. This process helped alleviate the problem of songs growing balls live on stage, only to find them neutered when they get to the studio.
The Conch employed the same technique. The band set aside two nights at the State Theatre in Portland, Maine to record the basic tracks in front of an audience . Again it worked. There is still that underbelly of live energy, yet the polish they put on the songs in the studio is just right. The addition of the Assembly of Dust’s Nate Wilson’s pulsating piano on the opening “Blue Jeans & Pizza,” the reworked “Tailspin,” the spacey twists and turns of the album’s centerpiece“Wind It Up,” and the awkward effects beneath the surface in “Down Boy” all combine to give the album a lush sound that requires headphone listening to get into all the nooks and crannies worked into the music.
The only missteps are the brief instrumental interludes that serve as transitions between tracks. On Wormwood they took on a life of their own, with some of them evolving into regular rotation in moe.’s live set. On The Conch the segues sound more like throw-away jams or half-developed ideas that only serve as an extended intro into some of the songs. The exception is “Y Eaux Massa” which carries the tune of “Wind It Up” further along, using the crowd vocals and chanting from the Portland show to create something new all together.
So why must calling this a great album be prefaced with a “but?”
Part of the excitement and thrill of a new release is discovering what new sounds your favorite band can come up with and discovering new favorite songs to see how they develop in a live setting. This would have been a great album a year ago; the songs were still fresh and had not developed their own distinct personalities. But (and this is the aforementioned but) with the exception of two songs, the slow cowboy ballad “Another One Gone” and the Al Schnier -penned instrumental “MacIntyre Range,” every song on The Conch has been in regular rotation for the last few years. They have already grown and developed. Some songs such as the now slowed down again “Summer O I” have seen multiple face-lifts over the past years. The excitement and rush from hearing a song for the first time is gone.
Regardless, The Conch is a great album. It has some of the best songs moe. has ever written, even if you have heard them before. They have adapted them into the studio and were able to keep the song’s man-parts intact.