Cat's Cradle Presents
Rose Windows, Mercators
506 W. Franklin St
Chapel Hill, NC, 27516
Doors 8:00 PM / Show 8:30 PM
This event is all ages
When Kevin Murphy sent his new album, Adiós I'm A Ghost to me, I assumed the title was just a clever play on words filling the void until he found just the right turn of phrase to sum up The Moondoggies' third full-length release on Hardly Art. It turned out, he already had.
Adiós I'm a Ghost, as a title and explanation of a theme, combines levity with ideas that are no laughing matter. "Adiós I'm a Ghost was, like our [band] name, a combination of a joke and serious ideas. I heard the phrase on a Phil Hendrie podcast...and it grew into something else for me; being able to have life after death. Because we live and die million times in the big span of being around. We transition. And the Moondoggies lived and died and lived again, but not so absolutely...we just shifted away, shed our old skin and now we're..." Murphy drifts off. " I hope" he says, "this album relays our want to have no form."
To shift shapes, much less become shapeless, the Moondoggies had to change: their line-up, the way they communicated, recorded, and wrote. They would have to push beyond the public pigeonhole of being a bearded band from Seattle singing in harmony to give the breadth of their influences a space in the spotlight. For Adiós I'm a Ghost they drew from a diverse list of musical influences from Pink Floyd to Blonde Redhead, Mississippi John Hurt to Nirvana.
Though they are oft compared to Laurel Canyon crooners or Southern swamp boogiers, Adiós I'm a Ghost is a quintessentially Northwest record. It speaks, with more than words, of tumultuous transformation -- changing pace as often as the weather on a Seattle spring day. Musically and lyrically, it balances light and dark, marrying the boisterous blues of their debut album Don't Be a Stranger, the symphonic sadness of Tidelands, and a temperamental timbre previously unheard from the band. Still present are their signature honeyed harmonies, Bobby Terreberry's bubbling bass lines, Carl Dahlen's chugging drums, Caleb Quick's roiling Rhodes, and lead vocalist and guitarist Murphy's heady hooks. But there's something undeniably different about this record, least of which is the addition of multi-instrumentalist Jon Pontrello to the band.
On paper, Adiós I'm a Ghost took a month to record in the studio and three years to write. In reality, it was over a decade in the making. A band made of lifelong friends, the "newest" official Moondoggie, Pontrello is actually Murphy's oldest musical collaborator. The pair first began writing songs together at 14 on their parents' back porches, playing both punk (in their band The Familiars) and pickin' traditional bluegrass together. Pontrello had been an unofficial 'Doggie since day one, but he'd been unable to commit to the band until he was needed in 2011 to fill in for bassist Terreberry on a tour. When Terreberry returned in 2012 after a year break from the band, Pontrello's passionate performances on stage and his opinions in the studio had become so invaluable, they decided to officially expand from four members to five. "This is the band we hear in our head beginning to be realized," says Murphy.
With new, old blood and a renewed passion for playing together, the Moondoggies channeled the band's beginnings: dingy dive bars and DIY house shows, those damp teenage back porch jams, the hours on end spent improvising in their practice space. In the process of recording Adiós…, songs laid to rest were reborn ("Don't Ask Why" was recorded for a never released album). Others were tirelessly edited until they were just right ("A Lot to Give" has been written and rewritten countless times over the course of years). Others exploded from the electric energy of the studio. All told, the band recorded 21 songs with producer Ryan Hadlock at Bear Creek Studios.
The 12 songs the band settled on highlight their dichotomies: dirty hooks and sweet harmonies, electric edge and plaintive pleas, chaotic collapse and restorative rhythm, nostalgia and newness. Though there is plenty that evokes the band that came before. Those of you looking for something familiar will be wowed by the Crazy Horse deja vu of "Don't Ask Why," and several of the new songs have already become live standards at Moondoggies shows. But as a listener, the most exciting parts of the album are the band's explorations of this undefined territory they sought to inhabit. The surf strut that begins "Midnight Owl" is unlike anything heard before on a Moondoggies record, the upbeat tempo masking a brutal retelling of love at any cost.
As a creative process and a finished product, Adiós I'm a Ghost is the Moondoggies at their best yet; exemplary of their desire to move beyond a self-made mold and embrace a boundary-less existence.
The notion that there is nothing new under the sun can be both a blessing and a curse to musicians. On the one hand, it absolves artists from any nagging sense that they have to reinvent the wheel with every new project. On the other, it makes innovation seem like a fool's errand. Seattle songwriter Chris Cheveyo embraces this blessing, but with his compatriots in Rose Windows, he also defies the curse. The band follows standard Western traditions in their instrumentation, using the basic tools employed in past decades of American and British rock music. Elements of The Band's folk-infused rock, The Doors organ-driven psychedelia, and Black Sabbath's blues-based dirges can be heard in Rose Window's debut album The Sun Dogs. But the septet's curiosity goes much further than a few well-chosen classic rock records. The band devoured Persian, Indian, and Eastern European music, studying the beautiful and strange paths taken by visionaries and renegades in other corners of the globe, and incorporated the revelations learned in the process into their sound. In doing so, The Sun Dogs challenges the assumption that all creative territories have been mapped out and charted. While Rose Windows aren't interested in making music of the future, one reviewer was wise enough to note "a sound like this would not be possible in any other time."
The genesis of Rose Windows started Fall 2010 in a house in Seattle's Central District, where Cheveyo found himself tiring of the limited palette of his prior heavy post-rock project. Though interested in new sonic possibilities, he was turned off by experimental music's lazy reliance on "knob-turning." His explorations became less about possibilities associated with new technology and more about studying various avenues of the past. The project began with a few rough demos done alone at home and slowly began to take shape as the band amassed members. Bandmates were mainly musician friends who wandered through the house. Rabia Shaheen Qazi's enchanting and exotic voice was the first component added to the fray. Roommate David Davila was asked to play piano and organ. Former bandmates Nils Petersen and Pat Schowe were enlisted for electric guitar and drums. Frequent houseguests Richie Rekow and Veronica Dye were brought on board for bass and flute. Rose Windows began playing out, fluidly sharing the stage with underground art-metal bands one night and popular indie Americana acts the next.
Label-less at the time, Rose Windows began making plans for recording The Sun Dogs in November of 2011. The band sought out local producer Randall Dunn based on his past success in harnessing the electric power of SunnO))) and Boris, the bleak twang of Earth, and the shamanistic acid-trips of Master Musicians of Bukkake. Dunn's penchant for musical anthropology proved the perfect match for the band, with their mutual curiosity and artistic ambition broadening the scope of the album. Other local musicians were brought on board to add harp, pedal steel, viola, and cello. Dynamics were expanded. Boundaries were pushed.
Musically, The Sun Dogs is an album based on the idea of sifting through the past, extracting bits and pieces, and re-imagining these into new forms. It's about observing and building upon musical traditions. Thematically, Cheveyo describes The Sun Dogs as being about "the everyday blues that capitalism and its hit man, religion, bring on all of us." More specifically, he sees The Sun Dogs as an acknowledgment of the circular nature of the rat race, learning to accept the evil in the world, taking joy wherever we can, and ultimately disavowing traditions of exploitation and violence. That search for finding light in the dark is perfectly captured in the album opener "The Sun Dogs I: Spirit Modules," as the ominous verses uncoil into beautifully lush string arrangements and vocal harmonies. "Native Dreams" displays the band's affinity for both exotic melodies and bold distorted guitar riffs, all while Qazi describes the encroachment of one culture upon another by singing of "spirit warriors" surrounding a sleeping camp. "Walkin' With a Woman" conjures the old blues tale of encountering the devil at the crossroads while culling motifs from classic psych and prog records. Songs like "Heavenly Days" and "Season of Serpents" offer a counterpoint to the foreboding moments on The Sun Dogs, with folk-steeped guitars, gentle pedal steel, and graceful choruses painting a picture of those moments of joy and grace in the midst of the world's evil. These moments of respite make the foreign melodies, menacing mysticism, and blown-out riffs on songs like "This Shroud" all the more disquieting. But ultimately "The Sun Dogs II: Coda" ends the album with a ray of light, with the alternating major and minor chords on acoustic guitar, lilting piano lines, "Kashmir"-esque strings, and full-band vocal harmonies burning off the gloom.
Rose Windows have already toured the West Coast several times, and with the release of The Sun Dogs, the band plans much more. In the meantime, they continue their search—delving into archives of long-lost albums, learning more about their craft from renowned local musicians, and charting their own path in an ancient art.
"The Mercators sidle slinky and slow. Whether soaked in fuzz or ramshackle twang, there's a foot-tapping energy that infests their musical foundation like hook-hungry termites gorging themselves." Chris Parker-Independent Weekly