Daniel Martin Moore Stray Age

[Sub Pop; 2008]

Styles: folk, singer-songwriter
Others: Nick Drake, Chet Baker

Much has been made recently (at least by Sub Pop) of the fact that Daniel Martin Moore is the first artist ever in the history of the entire universe to be signed to the legendary indie label through an unsolicited submission. Now, while this is undoubtedly a feat of which to take note, it's also one that necessitates at least a somewhat more focused critical lens, because when a label as revered and universally accredited as Sub Pop does something like this for the first time, a statement is being made. A statement is being made about the direction in which the label wants to go and the type of image that the label wants to cultivate. This album does indeed accomplish that goal, but the statement that winds up being made is just surprisingly weak.

It’s kind of a shame that this album has been put in the groundbreaking situation that it has, because Stray Age is not a bad album. Moore has a clear and dependable vocal style that can be easily adapted to various modes of song. Indeed, the tracks on this album travel down a fairly wide variety of musical veins, ranging from exiguous man-and-guitar ditties (where Moore occasionally, legitimately shines) to poppy choral harmonizing to flourishing string and percussion arrangements. Flowing through all the songs is a warm, back porch type of charm that one might imagine comes naturally to a Kentucky native like Moore.

Moore’s lyrics are straightforward and stick pretty closely to the simple, almost naïve feel of his instrumentation, to the point where they slide down the aural and mental drains a bit before one can get any type of grip on them. One exception to this is on the clear standout track, a cover of Sandy Denny’s “Who Knows Where the Time Goes” on which Moore allows the words to sing themselves, dangling them over the musical space created by the echoing piano (provided by Moore’s brother) and string bass. The track carries a weight that just escapes everything else on the album, and once you’ve heard it, it gets harder to look at the other songs the same way.

It is also, however, a strong piece of evidence for the potential that I suppose Sub Pop has seen in Moore, and this is certainly a plausible line of thought after hearing this album. However, Moore as the precocious new standard of the record label of Nirvana, Mudhoney, and Sebadoh is just not something I am prepared to swallow, especially when there are already people doing a very similar thing to what Moore is doing here, and doing it orders of magnitude more interestingly and powerfully, on that very same label (I’m looking at you VanGaalen). As I said, Stray Age is not a terrible album; it’s not even a bad one -- it’s just a victim of circumstance that still winds up looking convincingly guilty.

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