In their sophomore album Uneasy Laughter, Moaning have manipulated their exhilarating brand of post-punk to appear akin to gossamer. Their skilled interplay of synth and industrial guitar as well as their deeply personal lyricism results in something representative of the countless other vital emotions underneath the vast umbrella of vulnerability, other than anger. And as I repeatedly listen to the L.A. trio’s absolutely incredible new release within the seemingly never-ending haze of quarantine, I realize that they’ve managed to achieve something rare and wildly beautiful, something that I feel we are all very much going through at this time: delicately contained catharsis.
Uneasy Laughter is the perfect follow-up to Moaning’s stellar self-titled debut, which was dense and at times impenetrable in both its instrumentals and snarling, abrasive vocals; the debut was a sweltering room, all the windows blacked out and painted shut, the doors locked and the key buried outside in the dirt, a diatribe on the grievances of everyday life. Their sophomore release, on the other hand, focuses more on one’s internal psyche, letting in some semblance of light via the conscious focus on synth, almost as if deliberate holes have been punched through the wall of sound they’ve built up over the past decade during the days where guitarist/vocalist Sean Solomon, keyboardist/bassist Pascal Stevenson, and drummer Andrew MacKelvie were fully immersed in the Los Angeles DIY scene.
Solomon directs a lot of the narratives to men in particular, to explain that having delicate emotion is not equal to emasculation or lack of worth – he explained that, although things are slowly improving in terms of human empathy, unfortunately in our society men are still conditioned “not to be vulnerable or admit they’re wrong,” and that he wished to turn this on its head, wanting to talk openly about the mistakes he’s made over the years. Solomon, who also celebrated a year of sobriety during the recording sessions of Uneasy Laughter, additionally urges people to not abuse dangerous and/or illegal substances as a coping mechanism for anxiety and/or depression, stressing that “I don’t want to be the person who influences young people to go get high and become cliche tragic artists. What I’d rather convey to people is that they’re not alone in what they think and how they feel.” Many have reached out to the band to convey their appreciation, to share their own starts to sobriety, to express relief that they’re not alone – something which Solomon considers more of a win than anything else.
In this vein, I highly recommend that, at least once, you listen to Uneasy Laughter while reading the lyrics simultaneously, for they show Moaning’s ultimate empathy for the intricacies of human emotion. From the thunderous rage of “Ego” where Solomon condemns emotional narcissism to the gauzy, hypnagogic “Say Something” stressing the importance of mental health, each track feels important, necessary, worthy of deeper analysis. Even the tracks more explicitly about love and relationships – the visceral “Fall In Love” and the stunning “Stranger,” brilliantly offsetting the industrial, metallic synth and gritty, resilient guitars, are written thoughtfully and delicately, narratives that remain in your mind due to their honesty.
To me, Uneasy Laughter is beautifully and vividly reminiscent of a wound nanoseconds after it materializes on flesh, a raw, incredibly sensitive space forever oscillating between the poles of fresh pain and future acceptance, perpetually within those vulnerable, breathless moments before blood rises up to the surface and pools it red. Though it is perhaps painful to realize for some, I believe it is the realization of our own beautiful vulnerabilities and our capacity for empathy that will always save us in the end, no matter how far in the darkness we think we are. And though he said this in regards to poetry, I’d like to end with a Wallace Stevens quote that I kept coming back to while listening to Moaning’s incredible music, that sometimes, creating art “is a violence from within that protects us from a violence without.”
photo by Michael Schmelling