Clouded Bliss is the first full-length record by Oakland-based, self-proclaimed (and accurately proclaimed, I might add) “psych-sludge” trio Love Moon. It’s 10 songs of the heaviest pop you’ve ever heard. Or maybe it’s 10 songs of the catchiest sludge you’ve ever heard. Who knows. It definitely has 10 songs on it. And it’s definitely worth your time!
Let me begin by saying that these guys must really like Torche. Or maybe I’m just projecting. Regardless, the first two songs on this album show Love Moon doing a couple of things of which Torche would seem to be a, if not the, prominent practitioner. These songs are, respectively, the upbeat sludge anthem that is album opener “Not With Me”, and the huge, deliberate, crawling-but-never-swinging elephantine riffery of title track “Clouded Bliss”. Another notable similarity is that this album sounds great, with a style of production that is clear and even shiny without ever being thin. Like Torche, Love Moon appears to strive for an aesthetic which is psychedelic without having to sound hazy, and which can weigh a ton without ever sinking.
Indeed throughout this entire album there is a delightful concurrence of the real heavy stuff – huge riffs, plodding tempos, punk rock recklessness – with the real, well, not heavy stuff – major thirds, catchy little hooks, and an overall sense that these guys are slightly more concerned with brashness and fun than they are with darkness and doom. And I use the word “concurrence” here with real purpose – these conflicting forces of the grim and the graceful don’t simply sit next to each other, they sit on top of each other in many cases. Of the two songs already mentioned, the poppier of the two (“Not With Me”) still sneers and smashes, while the heavier (“Clouded Bliss”)…well fuck, maybe this one was a bad example. Suffice to say, even if you just have to trust me on this, there are very few occasions on this album where Love Moon are just trying to be as heavy as they can, without putting considerable effort into songcraft and catchiness.
Which, hey, makes perfect sense, right? I mean, Clouded Bliss, get it? It’s happy, but I guess we’re a little unsure about it. It’s poppy but it’s dirty. It’s a brightness obscured. They could have just as soon called this record Stinky Joy, or Muddy Hooks. Or switch things around – maybe it’s death and despair at the core that is instead covered by some veil of levity. In which case alternate titles could include Chocolate Covered Funeral, or Lavish Party Thrown on Tropical Island Using Inheritance From Dead Loved One. Or Bittersweet Symphony! Man, if only I liked reviewing albums that do exist as much as I like naming albums that don’t!
Let’s see if we can’t boil it down to the little things, because that’s what I like to do. It’s how I like to decide whether an album succeeds or not. I make some broad generalization about an entire album, but I try limit that as a stylistic categorization rather than a “this is great!” or “this is shit!” judgement of artistic worth. So Clouded Bliss is some superimposition of pop sensibilities and punk/metal bombast. Cool. Or whatever. I dunno. It could be good or bad. They’re certainly not the first band to do it (did I mention Torche?). Regardless we’re gonna be nice little Nick Carraways and reserve judgement for now. The real question, for me, the deciding factor in how “good” an album is, is: do the macrocosmic and the microcosmic stand up to one another? In other words, will a big, broad, stupid statement about the whole album be justified when I hold the magnifying glass up to it, and look at individual songs, and individual moments? And vice versa – if I find some small thing in one song that I think is really cool, does the band succeed in making that single brushstroke occupy more than one square inch of the canvas? Are they able to turn it into a whole landscape?
Well this probably won’t shock anybody, but this is exactly what I think Love Moon are able to do well, and it’s why I like this album, a lot.
One of my favorite tracks, and an exemplar of this heavy/catchy dichotomy, is “Lucid”. Speaking on the microcosmic level, the double-tracked clean and screamed vocals in the verse are as concise but clear an illustration as any as to how both ends of the spectrum can occupy the same point in Love Moon space-time. It’s not pop-punk (a moniker I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemies), but it still manages to be pop and punk, and each member of this doubly-voiced choir serves one of those distinct roles simultaneously. Widening our scope, we see that the paradigm stays relevant in a song-length analysis: a poppy verse and a heavy chorus, a melodic guitar line over a muddy bass dirge, a bridge that begins in noisy chaos and ends in anthemic clarity. On all counts it’s a successful marriage of light and dark, and it’s not the only track on this album that thoroughly summarizes this marriage as a broader artistic approach.
Big aesthetic concerns aside, let’s not ignore the fact that this band plays together really well, and carries on some kind of tradition by which good power trios, while economical by nature, are able to locate the right spots to stretch out musically – to break the mold, if you will. One of these moments comes right after the 2-minute mark on “Not With Me”. The song’s been pretty straightforward up until this point, but then they fall into a great bridge part during which the bass is playing some really cool harmony parts over (under?) the guitar line. Now, as a bass player, I warn the overzealous to be wary of moves like this (focus on playing the bass, man – hit some fucking tonics!), but in this case it’s a nice one, and tastefully placed. Sure, they could’ve used some studio magic and had an overdubbed guitar play these harmony parts, but why not take the chance to be creative, and in a less-is-more kind of way especially, and see what happens? It makes things interesting for the 2nd half of the song, and before you know it we’re back in more comfortable territory, with heavy plodding on the root and on the one.
But it’s not to say I won’t allow some songs to get away with just being catchy, or just being heavy. The album closer, for example, is entitled “Tortured Mess”, and as its grim title might imply, it’s doubtless a contender for the most abrasive, and least poppy, song on the album. Of course, album enders are a place where bands have to make important decisions, especially bands like Love Moon who seem most at home in a sort of stylistically ambiguous balancing act between conflicting sensibilities. We’ve been on the edge of our seats the whole time, soaking up every moment but wondering, how will it end? Will Dorothy click her heels and arrive home safely, or be left shackled in the dungeon of the flying monkeys to a life of endless torment? Well, if the Sabbath-Melvins drudgery of this closer is any indication, this band is happy to root for the bad guys.
If you want to have a good time and hurt your eardrums at the same time, head over to Love Moon’s Bandcamp and download this slamma-jamma of an album.