How have Talk Talk not inspired more direct imitators? With every passing year the extent to which Mark Hollis and his ever-evolving outfit were ahead of their time becomes a little clearer, their disregard for genre limitation, label control and exactly what can constitute 'pop' music leaving its mark on every remotely pioneering act from Radiohead to Aphex Twin. Their all-too-brief career gave us four straight-up masterpieces (and one decent synthpop debut) and left a legacy of limitless musicality and experimentation that next to no-one has managed to truly emulate.
I only bring this up because it is absolutely impossible to discuss Lo Moon's debut album without discussing Talk Talk. The resemblance is just too glaring. A kind observer might describe them as heirs to that group's flexible but (previously) unique sound, resurrecting that potent cocktail of naturalistic atmospheres, electronic instrumentation and impassioned, pleading vocals and revamping it for a new generation. An unkind observer might call them a jumped-up tribute band with ideas above their station - a doubly awful crime considering the dearth of talented Talk Talk tribute acts around.
Whatever your views on the matter, it is impossible to deny the craftsmanship with which the trio have sculpted the opening salvo of 'This Is It' and 'Loveless'. Both released as singles, it's on these songs that the ideas of frontman and lead songwriter Matt Lowell crystallise most clearly. Lush piano chords and warm synths crash into each other like waves atop Crisanta Baker’s anchoring basslines while Lowell passionately wrings out every word, each drop of emotion hovering above the song like a fine mist.
Sadly his talent for building epic, emotive crescendos does not overshadow his shortcomings as a lyricist. "This takes an army to play / There’s no other way / How long can I face the blame?" he sings on 'The Right Thing,’ somehow making Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds sound like students of Mark E. Smith in the process. His childish rhyming structures ruin even otherwise perfect songs like 'This Is It,’ on which he warns "Yesterday's drugs should never be taken / I fell into rotation / Surrendered mistaken". A less grandiose band could get away with claptrap like this, but if you elect to copy so liberally from the gospel of Mark Hollis, then your benchmark for comparison becomes "A gilded wreath on reason the flower crushed conceives / A child of fragrance so much clearer in legacy".
The contrast is not flattering.
Much of the record's best content is to be found on its second half, where Lo Moon engage more directly with modern pop and, consequentially, lessen their resemblance to a band birthed by ‘80s synthpop. The Maroon 5-via-Hidden Orchestra glitz of 'My Money' and the achingly earnest, Anathema-tinged 'Camouflage' may lack the HD splendour of the album's singles, but what they lack in majesty they make up for in individuality.
Reminding the listener what decade we're in makes the band sound a little less beholden to the unattainable genius of 'Colours Of Spring' and 'It's My Life'. Even when things get a little too Coldplayish (which they absolutely do on closer 'All In') then at least Lo Moon sound like their own band rather than an overenthusiastic Mark Hollis fan club. For most of the album's duration, however, it is impossible not to feel like your time would be better spent listening to the real deal instead of a knock-off copy.
So do yourself a favour. Grab a pair of really, really big headphones and listen to 'Spirit of Eden' from start to finish without any distractions. Then see if you still feel like listening to 'Lo Moon'.
Go on, do it.
I thought not.
Words: Josh Gray
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