This is the year where the dam finally burst for San Francisco’s Fresh & Onlys, where the already prolific band’s (three full lengths in the past four years, plus one more due later this year, for those keeping score) members finally produced more music than their marquee act could handle. Thus came the inevitable side projects: frontman Tim Cohen emerged with Magic Trick, while clutch guitarist Wymond Miles embarked on a high-minded solo career; his debut EP for Sacred Bones Earth Has Doors dealing in all sorts of esoteric subject matter that addressed several big-picture issues. Then, life went and intervened. A close friend died, along with a few family members, and now we have Under The Pale Moon, a record ostensibly about loss. While this subject would be enough for some artists to build an entire album around, Miles instead has crafted a record that captures the act of pushing through and beyond negative circumstances while setting it to a series of rollicking romps through archetypes of independent-minded rock both present and past.
Under The Pale Moon pays homage to the pasty romantics of ’80s pop, the dramatic crooners of years further past, the intriguingly depraved icons of post-punk, and several others without sounding like a pastiche or a mere exercise in genre tourism. It celebrates its own diversity while threading connective tissue (usually in the form of jangly, reverb-dipped guitars and warm synth tones) throughout the entire affair. There’s the star-lit slow dance of “You And I Are Of The Night,” the Your Arsenal-era Morrissey muscle of “Run Like The Hunted,” the smeared mascara goth pounding of “The Thirst.” That the whole album’s confidence level seems to increase exponentially as its tracklist soldiers on births the definite possibility that Miles could tackle just about any style successfully if he were to attempt to.
The four songs that appeared on Earth Has Doors had been written and shelved by Miles when responsibilities such as the Fresh & Onlys and fatherhood took precedent in his life. They managed to find life once their context had been carefully considered. Conversely, Under The Pale Moon was assembled with feverish speed towards the end of last year, making it an album very much of its moment, a tumbling journey through Miles’ mind that emulates that satisfying feeling of flicking from radio station to station and hearing nothing but jams, while still wondering what will come next.