I listened to Moonbeams everywhere. I pumped it through computer speakers, car stereos, ear buds, thick headphones; I danced, drove, walked, sat, and drifted to sleep while listening. Ultimately, I couldn’t find a spatial or emotional home for the type of music that Throw Me the Statue produces.
At the Statue’s unfathomable heart lies Scott Reitherman, bedroom producer and co-founder of Seattle’s Baskerville Hill label, which originally released Moonbeams. Like your Weens and your Guided by Voices, Reitherman (who did, incidentally, record the album in his bedroom) has a tendency to hop genres and experiment stylistically, a whimsy that is usually grounded by a distinct production aesthetic. But on Moonbeams, the songs seem to jostle one another and ultimately to conform under this friction. The writing is solid, but the apparent ambivalence of aesthetic makes me question why Secretly Canadian chose to re-release the album instead of working toward a new one.
Where Baskerville Hill labelmate Black Bear seems to revel in the lo-fi aesthetic, Throw Me the Statue alternately fights and embraces it. Reitherman’s more ambitious pop numbers feel stifled by a recording setup that adds nothing to them. Most of the time, live and synthetic instruments alike occupy an ambiguous middle ground, rising and falling without apparent motivation. It’s not that Moonbeams is too "electronic" — there’s a lot of live instrumentation here — but that there is no dialectic between acoustic and electric, human and mechanical, that plays out in the work of artists like Of Montreal or even Neil Young. It feels as if Reitherman’s electronic instruments merely serve to mimic the live ones, to act as placeholders of sorts.
Of course, it isn’t the artist’s fault that he lacks the means to completely flesh out his musical ideas and ambitions. The issue is that Reitherman seems to flatten his own production in order to mimic the smoothness and flexibility of studio production. Where standout "Lolita" strives for pop perfection with its surfer beat, handclaps, and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! hook, I can’t help but feel that something needs resolving in the song (besides his relationship with a nineteen-year-old girl) — perhaps the guitar could break from its forced crispness or the electronics could unveil themselves and engender a sense of vulnerability. Foot-tappers like "Take It or Live It," "Groundswell," and "This Is How We Kiss" strike a similarly uncommitted, though inflexible, pose.
The obsessiveness of bedroom recording is a powerful tool. Living and sleeping with your songs has a corrosive effect on them. In Moonbeams, it’s the periphery that breaks down as obsession gnaws at edges and streamlines vision. Of course, there are moments where Reitherman shatters the glass cage, through stupendous songwriting or good production choices. In the Shins-inflected "About to Walk," well-positioned synthesizers lend buoyancy to the show-stopping live drums as the music gravitates toward a beautiful, lilting chorus and then lifts off again. "Moonbeams," the album’s true gem, lives a charmed life between tasteful arrangement and Reitherman’s sincere vocal performance, not to mention a coterie of Bacharach-inspired horns. And damned if the man can’t write a bridge.
There are also moments where electronics successfully take the lead. The bleeps and bloops of "Mutinous Dream" recall Grandaddy’s masterful humanization of the machine. The warmly humming synths in "Your Girlfriend’s Car" resonate with the generosity of Black Bear’s best tunes. On the other hand, "Yucatan Gold" sizzles with an introverted electricity of Hissing Fauna proportions. The verse’s snaking guitar riff drags its tail over a funky beat and then cuts out for a wonderfully creepy bridge as Reitherman channels Kevin Barnes: "My baby wants bad things/ I’m trapped in the middle of a labyrinth." Finally, the trance-induced chorus leaves no doubt that Reitherman’s past is a grotesque animal: "She’s a crazy animal when she screams/ But in my head I wanted this it seems."
I really want to see these guys live. The problem of touring has inspired Reitherman to assemble a group of musicians who may finally do justice to his pop visions. Against this more organic backdrop, truly lo-fi softies like "Conquering Kids" and "Written in Heartsigns, Faintly" might open up. Where the rest of Moonbeams suffers from overproduction and stifled energy, the tenderness of those ballads becomes tiresome, the idiosyncrasies suffocated and forgotten. As an artistic entity, the band needs a proper home, and it’s up to the producer to provide for his child. In playing the "buzz band" card, Secretly Canadian has created a child star. Now it’s up to Throw Me the Statue to fend off heroin addiction.