Review: Moist Soars In Their “Dangerous Skies”

No question is simple for a true music junkie.  Favourite album?  You want me to choose just one?  Favourite song?  Well, right now, it’s…  Ask me what my first concert was, and I’ll give you three answers, depending on your desired specificity:

a)  In utero:  I was in my mother’s womb at the infamous Alice Cooper riot in 1980.  So, had he played, that would be my first.

b)  First concert seen of any kind:  Irene Cara, 1984.  My parents fed my addiction from the start.

c)  First concert I chose to attend, like a grown-up 13 year-old:  Moist.  It was free, and Treble Charger and Crash Vegas also played.  My ex took a dive while crowd surfing and had me congratulate him on his busted face.  And yes, the show was awesome.

I share this with you because for Canadians of my generation, there are bands as critical to our sonic tapestry as the likes of Something Corporate and Better Than Ezra.  Not knocking you, United States and beyond, but Canada had a phenomenal alt-rock scene in the 90s:  Matthew Good Band; Holly Macnarland; Bif Naked; The Tea Party… I really could go on.  Among the leaders of the pack were Moist.  Bursting onto Muchmusic’s heavy rotation with their single “Push”, they quickly locked down a record deal and reigned the decade with a trio of albums that insinuated themselves into our collective memories.  Unafraid to delve into darkness (“Leave It Alone”; “Believe Me”; “Ophelia”) and fond of layering mainstream alt-rock with keys and jams reminiscent of classic prog, Moist (and frontman David Usher) had a way of crafting deceptively sparse lyrics that spoke volumes through Usher’s passionate performances.

As many bands do, Moist parted ways for an indefinite hiatus in 2001, and while fans had great solo albums to enjoy, there was a spark that the band possessed as an entity.  Apparently, they recognized it as well, reuniting in 2013 for a short tour and subsequently settling in to craft their new release, Glory Under Dangerous Skies.

After a prolonged absence, expectations were high.  Mine, in light of my history, were perhaps more heightened.  Could Moist not only recreate that live magic, but craft an album worthy of their place in Canadian music history?

In a word:  yes.  Yes, they have.

Moist Glory Under Dangerous SkiesOpening with lead single “Mechanical”, those who’ve been enamored with the group since their pre-Silver days are immediately rewarded with a rocking, melodic track reminiscent of that early sound.  No overpolished production to fear here:  the band allows their skill to shine, crafting a tune that is catchy concert sing-along material.  The one-two punch combo lands with “Broken”, a solid rocker that is also firmly rooted in that early sound.

Less pop, more garage grit and heart:  that seems to have been the studio mantra.  For those who perhaps shied away from the mainstream influence that seeped into last outing Mercedes Five and Dime, it’s time to exhale that sigh of sweet relief.  Instrumental jams sprawl just enough to pierce the heart, retreating at the right time to take their bow.  Moist may be a little more low-key on Glory on the whole, but it’s not without heartfelt intention and creative decisions meant to support the stories crafted in four-minute morsels.

One of the things that has always made the band stand out is their ability to dissect slices of life, casting spotlights onto everyday heroes and villains in ways that subtly provoke contemplation of society.  From addiction to class warfare, no subject is too taboo.  Take, for example, “The River” and its defiant lament of religion:  “We ran to Jesus to be saved…You fooled us all. Oh, and I know the river won’t save me.”  Powerful imagery, yet universal, it beckons to anyone who’s surrendered to another force in darkness, only to be disappointed. Conversely, second single “Black Roses” feels like a lost Creature-era cut, driving ahead with its abandon as Usher insists, “I’m not here to save you.”  And really, that’s the point of it all:  everybody hurts, to borrow a classic lyric.  Now, Usher muses frenetically, what do you plan to do about it?

Themes of water, of seeking salvation in the darkest hours, run throughout the album.  The world reflected back at the listener truly is one of dangerous skies:  storms brew overhead, with unforgiving winds driving us on in a place where the divide between have and have-not continues to grow.  And yet, there’s no need to despair:  as Usher urges on “Comes The Sun”:  “Blow like ashes on the wind/We will survive…Take back the light ’till it’s gone.”  There is glory to be had, beauty to be found, and on the title track (one of the band’s best compositions in their career), a cautious optimism beckons:  we fall, but rise.  We transcend what we have endured.

Is it a manifesto for a band that has risen from the ashes of a hiatus so long, many never imagined it would end?  Or is it the wisdom of years cast upon the fears and challenges of youth — similar to the juxtaposition of Trent Reznor’s latest, conceived while reflecting on his own 90s breakout — offering a new insight?  I’d like to believe it’s a little of both, but that’s the beauty of a great band: they allow their songs to organically breathe and evolve in the minds of the beholder.

At turns near-philosophical and lashing with guitar strings, Glory Under Dangerous Skies is a spiritual wake-up call and a welcome reunion of a well-loved collective.  Capturing the best of their history while remaining fresh and bold, Moist soars.

Welcome back, guys.

Highlights:  “Morning Dies Here”; “Black Roses”; “Glory Under Dangerous Skies”; “The River”

Final Grade:  A

For album and tour details (my inner teenager is counting the days), visit the band’s official site.

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