February 8, 2001

Not Just One Moe Band

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Often a band prides itself on its signature sound, which can be straight up rock, or pop, or funk, or a patented hybrid that falls in between. A band with a distinct sound has the ability to make people recognize an artist from a 2-second snippet. This sort of instant recognition is what allows the incessant channel flipper to sift through forty different stations in a minute and stop on his favorite song. And to this sort of listener, I offer the following: Try to pinpoint Moe’s sound and I will give you my copy of Dither free of charge.

Moe’s ability to change its format is one of the few definitive characteristics of this upstate New York band. Their signature sound can be found on their 1996 major label debut No Doy, which thrust Moe into the Phishy category, but their latest effort dissociates itself from the tag. Dither is more of a cross genre experiment. But the success of such an experiment depends on the album’s ability to add up to something. Beck’s Odelay, for example, was intentionally quirky, and forced the listener to conclude that there is a little bit of folk in everything if it’s written right. Moe’s latest album comes across with less punch. It adopts confusion as its driving force, hence Dither: a state of confusion and apprehension. But what frontman Al Schnier and Co. seem to overlook is that an album about confusion does not necessitate an overly eclectic, often muddled presentation. “So Long,” for example, sounds like a b-side Soul Asylum track. And “Can’t Seem to Find,” a self-admitted take-off on Tom Petty’s Wildflowers, would certainly have been scrapped from that classic album.

But parts of Dither are individually solid, and leap above the humming confusion. They are, in short, worthy of Moe’s extensive talent. “In a Big Country” references almost everything great about the 80’s, from REM’s early acoustic indie sound to the walking guitar riffs in “Jessie’s Girl.” “New York City” also shines with rhythms reminiscent of Paul Simon’s Graceland, and lyrics as strong as anything currently written: “When a man with a scar on his face and a peg leg/ Drives his car fifty miles an hour down Broadway/ Looks at me with his crooked smile while Gershwin plays/ Hits his brakes and points out the freaks at St. Mark’s Place.”

Tracks like this highlight Moe’s considerable ambition. But ambition does not always translate into success, especially on an album that is so tough to play through. For the same reason that a classic band’s greatest hits album is worse than each of its individual albums, Dither flounders. To hear what Moe really sounds like, listen to No Doy, or go to a show and scream for old favorites.

Archived article by Ari Fontecchio