Night Moves’ debut album Colored Emotions took the genres of psychedelic country and folk rock and packed all of its components into a more glamorous, embellished package, and, despite its slight hiccups, was enough to attract the attention of Domino – who then took the group under its wing and polished their tunes without changing their quirky personas in the process. Almost four years later, the Minnesota based band hasn’t lost their unique charm and sly magic that made their debut so wonderful, and as a result, Pennied Days is a stunning, focused sophomore attempt rife with emotion.
Initially, when hearing the new record for the first time, its clear that something huge changed between the release of Colored Emotions and the recording of Pennied Days, being the nature and overall sound of frontman John Pelant’s vocals. In the jangly “Country Queen” and the hazy “Colored Emotions,” two of the debut’s best tracks, his voice is elastic, gooey, and often times surrounded by lush instrumentation to a major extent, brilliantly forcing that almost tangible strain and yearning in his voice to become his signature in the future. Now, his vocals sound potent and infinitely more confident, taking his impassioned yelps and falsetto croons in the emotionally and technically stunning opener “Carl Sagan” as prime example. Pelant’s vocals aren’t buried under layers of synth or reverb – well, at least, not as much – and here, we hear both vocals and instrumentation equally sharing the spotlight. The piano pounds that lead into the metallic twangs of guitars on the previously unreleased track “Border On Border” are simply euphoric, and again, the strong, nostalgia-inspired riffs that power “Carl Sagan” are breathtaking. The upbeat, anxious “Staurolite Stroll” and the smooth, romantic track “Alabama” brilliantly act as simultaneous contrasts and compliments, and its beautiful that the mind-blowing instrumentals of the former are soothed and caressed by the latter. While it’s clear that Night Moves actively sway to the beat of their predecessors and the trio hasn’t lost their skill in channeling that quintessential 70’s psychedelia, there are times where that sense of over-heightened acknowledgment weakens the album – for instance, tracks like the retro “Leave Your Light On” and “Kind Luck” where, after the third or fourth vocal strain and guitar swell, it starts to lose the magic and honesty that the album starts out with and instead acts as filler. However, while Colored Emotions had a sense of fluidity but wasn’t as skillfully impressive, on Pennied Days it’s the exact opposite, which surprisingly works in its favor.
Ironically, the album’s first teaser “Denise, Don’t Wanna See You Cry” is the best track on the album, as I found myself attached to the way it oozes nostalgia and desperation each time I came around to it. It’s the perfect combination of soft and hard, of cold and warm, and that yearning found in the croon of the beginning word “tonight” as well as the various subtle iterations of guitar that surround it is enough to make you swoon. The instrumentals swell and pulsate like a beating heart, and seems to be an excellent representative of Pennied Days as a whole – a living, breathing thing succumbed to passion.
photo courtesy of domino
P.S. I also got a chance to see Night Moves during SXSW and they are just as great live! Highly recommended. Plus, I got a chance to chat with John for a while and he is just as chill as he appears to be.