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On “This Is Cave Music,” Moon Hooch Tighten Up Without Turning Down (Album Review)

On “This Is Cave Music,” Moon Hooch Tighten Up Without Turning Down (Album Review)

Written by Kevin Madert

Before I bought Moon Hooch’s self-titled debut album, I didn’t know the true meaning of the phrase “replay value.” From late-night drives to early morning runs, parties to study sessions and everything in between, Moon Hooch became my go-to soundtrack for basically everything. It’s for this reason the prospect of a new Moon Hooch LP stirred within me equally feelings of excitement and nervousness. My mental bar for a follow-up full-length was set to an unfair height, and a part of me fretted the trio would let me down by default.

Then I heard This Is Cave Music and all worry was assuaged. It’s an album that somehow manages to leap forward stylistically without sacrificing even one iota of the rawness and unbridled energy of its predecessor, and for that tightrope act alone Wenzl McGowen, Mike Wilbur and James Muschler deserve all the hyperbolic praise I can heap upon them. Instead of turning in a sophomore effort that follows the status quo, they’ve opted for an album full of clever experimentation and pleasant surprises. Purists and newbies alike can find something to admire, because there’s just enough of the old to pave the way for all the new.

From the gravelly count-in kicking off opening track “No. 6,” Moon Hooch picks up where they left off on the self-titled with screeching brass and deep halftime breakdowns. Immediately following that is “Mountain Song,” a total 180 featuring nuanced, thought-provoking vocals and pulsating basslines. The rest of This Is Cave Music proceeds similarly, with each track every bit as unpredictable as Moon Hooch was uniform.

The group’s desire to expand the potential of their sound shines through brightest in the moments where fresh approaches meld seamlessly with the saxophonic acrobatics that have defined Moon Hooch since their inception. Vocals – a rarity up to this point – feature prominently on several tracks, a move that works and lends accessibility to a wider audience (one that may need some easing in to the harsher sounds of Moon Hooch in full sax frenzy). They aren’t just there for the sake of it, though. The band has plenty of poignant thoughts (their official site is packed with posts on sustainability and eco-friendliness) and lyrics like “No more pressure from the people always telling you to buy/They want you they need you they’re just feeding you a lie,” speak louder than any sax can blare. Added effects provide another layer atop the already lush instrumentation; from the eerie slide-whistle on “Contra Dubstep” to the barely-there atmospherics on “Milk and Waffles.”

While Moon Hooch was very much the product of a band that found its home on subway platforms and street corners, This Is Cave Music is the band harnessing that gritty energy and honing it into a more glossy finished product. It’s restrained in ways their first album wasn’t, yet at the same time more daring than that album could have ever hoped to be. And it all works because underneath the subtle sheen of post-production is the same untamable animal that’s roared its way across dancefloors and city streets the world over. That, friends, is the power of the Hooch.

This is Cave Music is available now via Hornblow/Palmetto Records. Grab a copy from Moon Hooch’s official webstore and stream single “Bari 3” below.

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