Saturday, March 3, 2012

Viking Moses to release "The Conquest Night" March 13!

We're excited to present our first ever album review/preview, from a fellow independent label The Epiphysis Foundation!  Full disclosure: we've been eagerly awaiting this album since we met Brendon in 2010 at a show with Stargrazer and Doby Watson held at Lansing's own Basement 414.  We'll try to remain objective, but all disclaimers apply.

On March 13th, the Epiphysis Foundation will release Viking Moses' 3rd full-length album The Conquest Night, which like its predecessor the moving The Parts That Showed follows a loose story arc.  The Conquest Night weaves together a tale in episodes, of two kids out past their curfew and their adventures (and misadventures) over the course of the night until morning.  They encounter wild dogs, forest fires, confrontations with other children, fierce feelings, wonder, and fear.   Bridging an emotional range that flattens out to some extent as we become adults, The Conquest Night explores the sort of innocent love that youth is uniquely capable of.

Viking Moses is the touring and songwriting project of Brendon Massei, active since 2003.  After releasing debut album Crosses and having a song included on Devendra Banhart's acclaimed Golden Apples Of The Sun compilation (2004), Massei toured relentlessly, playing numerous DIY venues and developing a reputation for forming ad hoc bands the day of performances, or even occasionally drawing people out of audiences.  A Viking Moses show has an intensity and range that would be difficult to imagine bottled on record, and indeed his gorgeous sophomore album The Parts That Showed (2008) was subdued by comparison, although it encompasses a lot of unflinching emotional territory and takes on the story of an underage prostitute with a novelist's precise hand.  Neither morality play nor cautionary tale, The Parts That Showed is a raw, minimal and at times noisy folk album with lots of edges surrounding a crystalline, skeletal heart; a human tale embracing the beauty and ugliness of life rather than playing to our expectations or grasping for meanings.  And it does so by transmuting this grit and joy into a surprisingly uplifting, melodic, and memorable clutch of songs.  Massei writes that he hopes Dolly Parton will perform it one day, and one can hear the country icon's influence and imagine her doing just that.

The Conquest Night was recorded over the same two days in 2005 as The Parts That Showed, with Massei backed up by Deer Tick's John McCauley III, as well as Cody Brant on bass, Spencer Kingman on piano, and Jacob Sato on drums.  Seven years later, this more driving counterpart album finally sees release!  Despite the intervening years, the recording sounds immediate and fresh.  Along with nine original songs, The Conquest Night also features "Crowned," penned by Scout Niblett and Daniel Johnson's "I Live For Love."  Taking what might seem a straightforward concept and performing alchemical, extended and timeless songwriting mutations on it, Brendon Massei transports us back into the bodies of his protagonists, revealing minute details and emotional watersheds with an immersive, observant and unpolished vocal delivery that is nonetheless riveting.

The ecstasy of misbehaving receives early celebration with the album's opening track "On The Way Home."  It is immediately followed by an encounter and flight from a pack of dogs.  In a particularly surprising and atavistic moment, Massei yelps with the tribal resolve of the dog pack.  The respite from their narrow escape is brief; a fire is built to warm by and sparks rise up to the stars.  The album's first single "Follow Foreign Love" can be heard here along with some unique, even ambient, reworkings of four other songs.  "House Up Along The Way" most closely recalls the minimalism and spaciousness of Massei's previous album, while "Down In The Water Below" makes the most of a simple refrain, using it to reflect the moon, fireflies, starlight, broken branches, and the simple reverie of swimmers.  "Cardboard Swords" and "Hayfields" carry on right on the heels of the prior songs, the evening divided into chapters worthy of Twain as the reality of morning's approach sets in.  The companions continue to wrestle and chase, unwilling to acknowledge that fatigue and sunrise are unraveling the conquest night.

Viking Moses has crafted a tale of pounding hearts and innocence; of children in vast fields with every direction open to them and the thrill of making your own decisions.  A propulsive follow-up to The Parts That Showed, The Conquest Night draws us back into that world for a low-lit adventure scrambling through abandoned houses, going for night swims, and finally letting go of the night that has carried us along like a wave.  Massei's parting songs,  "Leave Each Moment" and Johnson's "I Live For Love" may set us down gently, but the poignance of memory and the exhilaration of the song-cycle linger.

You can purchase The Conquest Night here:

If you're in the mood, listen to Viking Moses perform Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You," the closing track from The Parts That Showed.  It will change the way you think of that song.

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