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Music Review/Comentary – MoeTar May 9, 2012

Posted by rwf1954 in MoeTar, music, music commentary, progressive rock, rock music.
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There are a few times in my life when I have heard new music and was stunned. “What exactly was that? I’ve never heard anything like that before. What the hell was that? I need to hear it again—and again—and again.” Some instances I can recall: 1) As a teenage kid hearing “Purple Haze” by Jimi Hendrix, 2) As a slightly older teenage kid hearing Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s “Tarkus,” 3) Around the same time—“Dance of the Maya” by John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra, 4) As a college student hearing Igor Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” for the first time, 5) Later in adulthood hearing Dimitri Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony, particularly the leaping slightly off-kilter fanfares that start the piece, and 6) “Cult of Personality” by the late 80s/early 90s group, Living Colour. Now we can add to that “Dichotomy” by MoeTar. Thank you Magna Carta records for keeping me on your mailing list and letting me know about these people.

“Dichotomy” is one of a number of really captivating cuts in the MoeTar style. I’ll discuss each cut individually. Generally, we have the crystal clear female vocal stylings (except for occasional raspiness in the upper range) of Moorea Dickason over adventurous rhythms and harmonies (most writing credits are attributed to bassist Tarik Ragab) producing a sound that is hard to compare to anything I’ve heard before. Certainly influences from progressive rock both past and present are evident. But this really is an original sound. And during some sections, if you want to sing along, you are going to have a challenge keeping up with Moorea Dickason as she sings complex vocal lines in unison, and sometimes in harmony, with the guitar and keyboard. Do I think MoeTar will break through the way Jimi Hendrix did? In this current music climate, probably not. This music takes effort to absorb—effort well worth expending, by the way—and often in our culture now it is the simple, sometimes overly simple, pounding drum and bass lines under step-like melodies with easy leaps that catch our attention, then fade quickly as their shallowness causes our attention to drift to the next banality. But those of us who like our music fresh, and inventive, and adventurous, need to stick up for acts like MoeTar. And—encourage them to produce more music!

My comments on the cuts:

Dichotomy (3:57) – It’s in eight. Not two 4/4 measures. It’s in eight. The rhythm throbs along with a strange bass accent at the end of the eight that had me searching for an unconventional time signature. So the rhythm calls out for attention. After a rousing introduction with quick instrumental flourishes, in comes the lilting, jazzy vocals: “Doom architects, skin cineplex infiltrate dynastic manifest…” Here we go! The lyrics fly by—it took a few listens just to pick out a few lines I really love: “…masters of our own banality,” “…experiments on supplicants, social engineering detriments”—with the closest to a vocal hook being “paradox dichotomy,” recurring throughout the song. In the middle of the song, we have an interplay among bassist Tarik Ragab, keyboardist Matt Lebofsky and guitarist Matthew Heulitt reminiscent of Gentle Giant. In fact, the song reminds me faintly of “Cogs and Cogs,” though “Dichotomy” is no clone of that progressive rock classic! The lyrics and music sail by so fast that I was compelled to listen over and over—to try to figure out—what the hell happened here! Once I got a handle on it, I could only marvel at how wonderful the song is, and hope for more of the same. This is my favorite on the CD, but others come close as I will discuss.

Infinitesimal Sky (3:01) – Starting right out with the line “where’s that idiot clown,” this song features block chord shifts over a quirky driving rhythm in five. The lyrics—“Burn up. Burn down. So much for you.”—bring us to a climax of sorts.

Butchers of Baghdad (4:19) – The underpinnings of this song—the bass, keyboard and drum rhythm section—could be a chord progression/arrangement for a late Beatles song. But over the top is a flurry of lyrics and complex vocal lines sung in perfect unison with the guitar. A few lines speak out absent the guitar doubling, offering a contrast of clean purity against the turbulence of the unison sections. A performance of this song is featured in MoeTar’s video at their web site http://www.moetar.com.

Random Tandem (4:11) – A light carnival feel here, with alternating long note melodic sections and flashes of quick, leaping lines (a trademark of the MoeTar style). The exotic doubling of the long vocal notes with a lilting instrumental note adds to the creepy carnival effect.

Ist or Ism (4:57) – This starts out with a hard rock riff stated by the guitar, developed into the main A section, also with a heavy rockish feel. The A section is then wonderfully contrasted with a lighter B section, with a jazzy, swinging rhythm, consisting of scat sections that would make the scat-master female vocalists of Manhattan Transfer proud.

Morning Person (2:54) – Lumbering tribute to waking up slowly, with some wild instrumental interplay at the end.

New World Chaos (5:39) – Dickason’s overdubbed vocal pad provides the gentle, haunting pulse for the song—the guitar, keyboard, bass and drums flit around through the shifting, calm-within-the-storm vocals. Through this section, the vocals are the rhythm section. This matches the title’s implied mood perfectly. The guitar, keyboard, bass and drums calm down with the lyrics: “Blue skies. Green scenes. White light. Red dreams.” This creates a mystical repose with the rhythm section and vocals in sync again. But it is a masterful out-of-sync before we get to that repose!

Screed (4:40) – This one starts out with a big Gothic theme and develops into one of the more straightforward cuts on the CD, still recognizable as MoeTar, thanks to the lyrical style of Moorea Dickason’s distinctive vocals.

Never Home (4:50) – Gentle ballad about never feeling at home in New York City, in a light, slow, jazz waltz style. MoeTar dresses it up at the end with the jam-like coda section.

From these Small Seeds (5:19) – Okay, here’s another one—“What the hell was that?” Turbulent harmonies and off-kilter rhythms underpinning lyrics like “harbinger of dreams…  Precognistic themes… Apocalyptic dreams and memes…” This goes on until the jumble stops dead with the wonderfully harmonized words “who cares.” There’s something of a swagger with this line, as if we are caught in a mismash of pretentious abstraction, and so we throw up our hands—“who cares.” And then we shift into a clearly stated hook: “I’m past the point of no return.” But that line cadences off the home chord of the key we are in, leading us right back to the wonderfully controlled chaos that permeates most of the song, including a vocal interplay at the end that leaves us unsettled—the song is not going to give us an easy way out. If I had heard this before “Dichotomy,” it might have been my favorite. It is a close second for me.

Friction (3:07) – Great finishing cut. “Golden prizes fill your eyes to fill your head…” A big soaring melody over an unconventional chord progression. (No I-IV-V-I’s for this group!) The shifts from four to three give the cut a wandering feeling, shifting, drifting, searching. The chords themselves seem in search of a resting place but simply will not arrive there. The cut seems to be in any number of keys all at once. And if you think the final chord will give you that resting place, forget it! “Fear and deny. Turn from the cry. Now.” I consider this in my top three favorite cuts from this sensational album.

*******

MoeTar indicates on their website that they’re working on a new CD, possibly as you are reading this right now. I say to them—bring it on! I suspect there is an enormous amount of creative opportunity within this style!

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