Here's an album that sounds refreshingly natural from somewhere in the Netherlands. Apparently the four musicians involved have known each other for three decades, from a host of different bands, but who hadn't played together in this formation before. In 2017, guitarist Joop Wallerbosch, who wrote all these songs, and vocalist Mark Barneveld asked their friends, bassist Rowdy Lemaire and drummer Wybren Grooteboer, to do just that and "did not take no for an answer".
And if I hadn't cribbed all that off the band's website, I'd have figured out some of it because this has the contrasting stamps of experience and freshness all over it. For instance, there isn't anything flash here, but that's not because these guys aren't up to it; it's because years of playing has taught each of them that less is often more and that you don't need a lot of notes when you have the right notes. Yet there's a freshness to everything, as if each of these musicians relishes being able to bring something of what they do to a new table. They're not showing off to us at all, but maybe they are showing off a little bit to each other.
They're also working from a very broad musical palette. It's The Hurt that grabbed me, with its garage feel, alternative feel and seventies glam feel. It's a deceptively loose song that hints at Nirvana, David Bowie and the B-52s all at the same time. It's the opening track on this album but it's not a template for the rest of it to follow. Both Sun and One of a Kind are more traditional rock songs but with funky guitar lines. Wicked Game starts out with the feel of a Thin Lizzy ballad. Love, Peace and Happiness is reminiscent of the Beatles in the seventies.
And that's just the first half. In short, the individuals in this band clearly have broad listening tastes and they're happy to explore them with some ambition within the ten songs on this, their debut. I'm not sure I'm catching all the lyrics to Daily Bread, which appears to me to be about music as a form of daily sustenance, with namechecks to Jim and Janis, Cobain, Elvis and the Walrus.
It's also fair to say that the music is emphatically what matters because the production doesn't do the usual job so much as set the levels properly and get out of the way. Apparently the band converted an old cow shed on the German border into their studio and it wouldn't surprise me if they didn't simply jam in there until everything felt right, then someone pressed record. It doesn't feel live in the sense that the band could be playing on my desk just to me, which sometimes happens, but it does feel live in the sense that they're playing to each other in a small space.
And much of what I've just said stops after eight songs, because the final two feel like the band turned round and finally noticed that we've been listening in all along, so decided to perform for us instead of themselves. Weatherman is jauntier, flashier and a lot more overt, with easily the heaviest guitar tone thus far, though it's grungier than it is metal. It also kicks off with a sample and wraps up with a neatly production ending, so it's far more deliberate. And Skinny Girls is slicker still, easily the most commercial song here, as if, now they have an audience, they'll throw their single at us.
I dug this a lot. It feels real and natural and honest. I'm sure Moonshine Moaner would be happy if we all bought this album and made each of their lives more financially comfortable, but somehow I have a feeling that they're happy just playing music together too and that rubs off on us. I felt happier just for listening to it.