Songs on the CD:
- 1. Closer
- 2. Polyphonic Rust
- 3. Never Get Older
- 4. Blue Moon
Despite the altitude entailed by their Thurberian epithet, Of Moths and Stars are a wonderfully earthy group. The realm of simple, sincere and remarkably engaging musical presence that their live shows span is held together by a fierce intensity – both sonic and visual. It’s too often, however, the kind of thing that gets left behind on stage as the studio wrings out the humanness of recordings, especially ones that are primarily acoustic.
Fortunately, that is not the case with Polyphonic Rust, and though it is way too short in length (one of its only flaws), it’s packed with flourish, emotion and activity. While they have rounded out the range of their sound by adding instruments other than an acoustic guitar and the token drum (I’m talking ‘bout the trash can lids, grills, etc.), this has been done with great care and restraint so that at no point do they sound imbalanced, or thrown in for the sake of name-checking instruments. There’s some beautiful cello, flute and piano, but their perennial primary force shines in Chris’ very able acoustic guitar-work. It forms his version of the wall of sound, strummed frenetically at varying tempos, leading you at will to whatever soundscapes and emotional junctures it pleases. The vocals are deceptively raw, strewn over the rich backing, with more attention paid to feel than to technical accuracy – and it shouldn’t be any other way either, for the voice that’s preoccupied with hitting notes loses some of its earnestness. The overall effect is something akin to the dreamlike state Neil Innes conjures up in some of his best work. While they do have the very effective stormy-sky-against-calm-sea vocal combination, they’ve not overused harmonies (an all-too-common pitfall); but when they do use them, it really augments the feel of the songs.
The lyrics are another strong point, with the delightfully gentle, Television-esque metaphors (like the charming “You are the misthrown catch in my left hand”), that make the songs stand like elegant tankas, with similar themes of coinciding humanity and nature. Closer opens with soothing, almost chanted backing vocals, and Chris’ voice comes in relief, with some majestic cello flourishes to follow. A very Hendrixy burst of backwards guitar announces Polyphonic Rust, whose permeating toms anchor the only guitar solo among the songs – it’s slightly Chuck Berry, slightly Keith Richards, but also surprisingly grungy. I must say that the backing vocals on Never Get Older should have been approached better – they’re a bit rough on the ears, and doesn’t do justice to the rest of the song, which is light and majorly hummable (especially the refrain of “You can see the sun rise from anywhere”). Blue Moon suffers a little from its more bohemian, experimental feel, sounding a little unfocussed, not unlike the songs on Mad Season’s Above. The siren-like sounds and cello don’t really mesh, but this is a minor complaint. Nate’s calm voice has a distinct undertone of frenzy, which really sets up the song’s later drama, closing as if in a hazy dream.
Basically, the songs all have character and soul (which is shot through with holes, apparently), and for those who value the emotional appeal of music above all – this one’s a keeper.
— Shashwati Kala