Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Dead Moon - Unknown Passage - 1989

Strange Dead Moon: A Backwards Discovery

Many a Record Store Day ago (actually 2013 in NYC), the VVers picked up a copy of Strange Moon by A Place to Bury Strangers, not knowing much about what it was except that: (1) they like APTBS; (2) the EP was on bright yellow vinyl; and (3) the songs were all covers of some band called Dead Moon.  As it turned out, Strange Moon is a lovely, loud album full of fuzzy reverb energy.  A+!  This can stand alone as a fantastic EP, however, it thrilled the VVers so much they became curious to listen to the original versions.  Surprisingly, this EP isn't a cover of just one of Dead Moon's albums, but what could be considered more of a favorites collection for APTBS.  How apropos that a three-member band from Brooklyn is covering an obscure, three-member band from Portland, OR.  The VVers are intrigued.... they need to find some Dead Moon records.

While occasionally perusing record bins, as the VVers do, they procured a later career album, Crack in System, from End of an Ear in Austin.  Several tracks have repeating bonehead riffs a la early Beastie Boys while others have a decidedly lo-fi Neil Young and Crazy Horse vibe.  Although good (and strange), VVer #2 really wanted to hear the original songs that APTBS covered, none of which were on this LP.  While the VVers cannot for the life of them remember where they found it, Unknown Passage is the album from 1989 that has the majority of the APTBS-covered titles on it.  It was bought, listened to, and squeezed into the record shelf for another day.  Not a recollection of its first listen, other than a "hmm" APTBS did straight covers, more or less, adding a touch of their own particular sound.  Looking back, it's hard to say what the VVers expected from the original.  It's not like APTBS was remaking something far afield like a Peggy Lee or James Brown song or something; both bands have a similar sound palate.  Regardless, this record was ignored for a few months.  Upon a recent re-discovery, the VVers realized just what captured APTBS' imagination.

Outstanding originals that were covered on Strange Moon include "Dead Moon Night" and "54/40 or Fight."  Opening track "Dead Moon Night" is full of Fred Cole's fierce, warbling, grating voice over churning guitar crescendos mid-track that give way to an ominous close out.  "54/40" is a speedy, garage-punk track that is the real deal.  It's raw and energetic, but oh those little extra drums are a nice touch.  "ALLLLLLLRRRIGHTTT!"

The only track out of the few on Unknown Passage that is outdone by its cover is "I'm Wise."  Dead Moon's has a much more melancholy tone created by angsty vocals where APTBS comes off much more creepy, menacing, and threatening.  APTBS add a bit of their typical reverb to pay homage in the best way on this one.

Side B of Unknown Passage is comprised of outstanding tracks, none of which were covered on Strange Moon.  The intense "Time has Come Today" is super raw and loud.  It all breaks down a few minutes in to just a clock-like tick, then echoing this beat, a sludgy guitar re-enters to morph back into the original song.  "On my Own" closes out the album with a shambling, lo-fi Stooges vibe.

This is the sort of music that feels like it comes from the edge of forgotten places from people who do not care in the slightest about what you might think about it.  Every song has enough honest and raw fury to capture curiosity and then smash it to little itty bits.  Even the calmer tunes feel desolate enough to make your palms a little sweaty.  This self-recorded and self-produced second album makes the most of Dead Moon's sparse sound.  Their DIY ethos is displayed in every facet of the the music on this record.  Originally released on Fred and Toody Cole's own label, Tombstone Records, this mono recording has been long out of print.  Thankfully, fellow Portland label, Mississippi Records reissued and remastered this one from the original tapes.  A perfect candidate for reissue.  Thank you Mississippi Records and APTBS for leading the VVers down an unknown passage to rediscover some great music.

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