The Moondoggies Tidelands

[Hardly Art; 2010]

Rating: 2.5/5

Styles: folk-rock, Americana
Others: The Cave Singers, Fleet Foxes, Band of Horses

Something about the name The Moondoggies reminds me of an old joke from the forgotten 90s sitcom The Critic, but Google informs me that the name comes from an old Sandra Dee beach flick. Is this information pertinent to an assessment of the band and their music? Yes. No. Maybe. It’s an ill-fitting name for a throwback folk act, to be sure, but at the same time, there’s a loose, casual quality to the music that is reflected in that (admittedly awful) name. The near-eternal half-life of folk revivalism ensures that The Moondoggies will have a receptive audience for as long as they want one. And there’s at least one upside to the name: it sounds like a band you’d catch while grabbing a few beers at a local bar, which incidentally is a decent enough description of the Moondoggies milieu.

Are The Moondoggies responding, then, to such name-and-genre apprehensions, on their second album, Tidelands? After all, the first song is titled “It’s a Shame, It’s a Pity.” Tideland’s first words are “It’s along way down/ Don’t get tangled in a crowd,” and while I can certainly choose to interpret it how I want (thanks Roland Barthes!!), I’d be wasting your time if I were to claim in earnest that the Seattle band is writing mournful music about their poor naming abilities. At the same time, The Moondoggies write songs so derivate and unfussy that one almost needs to read too much into them. After all, there are only so many The Band references one can pack into a review, right? That’s the first and last, promise.

So then, what is there to discuss when the musical template is so firmly set? The Moondoggies deserve credit for striking a balance between modesty and panache. Tidelands — much more than its predecessor — is a trim, confident collection of rock hymnals. Their debut, Don’t Be a Stranger, was too loose and dragged on, all the way into redundancy. This time around, The Moondoggies keep to a tight pace, jogging through 10 songs in little more than 40 minutes. Of course, the songs start to blur together around the middle of the album, before or during the stormy but oddly unaffecting “Uncertain.” Once again, it’s tempting to read my opinions into these titles and lyrics. No matter.

There’s a fair amount of strong material here. The title cut begins a tad too boilerplate-bluesy, but blooms into a mournful, melodic elegy. More important than tone is that “Tidelands” has a memorable melody at its center, which is more than can be said for many other songs. “Empress of the North” — a stripped-down, acoustic ditty — is delicate and sweet and just developed enough. But too many of Tidelands’ songs are smothered in blankets of harmony — which works far better live than on record — and the album becomes tedious, despite the short runtime.

I’m being unfair, because The Moondoggies are actually quite good at what they do, and Tidelands is a solid and sturdy folk-rock release, one that would have fit snugly within the old NPR paradigm (i.e., before it started muscling its way into Pitchfork territory). If I listened to the radio, I have no doubt I’d be hearing much of the album on local listener-supported stations. But that’s the kind of music that The Moondoggies make: music for middle-class, middle-aged white liberals. Music for my parents, and the parents of pretty much everyone I know. Tidelands is almost just as good as the real thing, but the real thing is still out there, if I want to find it. Why settle for a smudged facsimile or a faithful-to-a-fault reproduction? Therein lies The Moondoggies’ appeal, the rationale for their existence, and their silly, silly name: last waltzes are final, but The Moondoggies are around to strike up the band, to fill that void. They don’t need to be fussy, because their fanbase sure isn’t.

Links: The Moondoggies - Hardly Art

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