Moaning is an apt band name for the type of aggressive, yet latently vulnerable music that its members create, existing somewhere between a resentful cry from pain as well as an escaped sigh of pleasure. After spending the last ten years developing their sound in the Los Angeles DIY scene, Sam Solomon, Pascal Stevenson, and Andrew MacKelvie signed to Sub Pop records and began working on their debut album, and with it their reputations for being post-punk wunderkinds were born – as well as their underlying desires to craft the sort of noise-heavy, lyrically personal and evocative anthems that seemingly any twenty-something can relate to their own personal ideologies, broken and weary from the increasing pressures of modern society.
There’s a specific mentality in millenials that if you’re not successful by the time you’re twenty-five, you might as well give up on your dream entirely. It’s an incredibly toxic, stunted way of thinking, even more so for those in a purely creative field, where it was always incredibly difficult to find success anyways. Of course, the threat of failure has never stopped creators from creating, and all cynicism aside, I honestly feel there has never been a better time to be in the creative field than right now, despite all of its frustrations – modern technology has made it so simple to readily express your thoughts and feelings, to do research on just about anything, and, most importantly, to seek both inspiration and solace from other creators. And yet, ironically, the struggle to somehow sculpt all of that into a stable living still remains.
This is the exact society that Moaning exist in, “one where the endless possibility for art and creation is met with the fear and doubt of an uncertain future” (Sub Pop), a concept they express through simple, yet piercing language, and, perhaps fittingly, also mostly exists as a series of questions – in “Artificial” he asks either us, a past lover, society, or perhaps even all three “who is it for?/ was it thought through?/ can I have more?/ is it all for you?/ will you learn to share?” He asks similar questions to a faceless lover in the fervid, post-punk anthem “Don’t Go,” desperately wanting to know “do you care ‘cause I do?/ are you there ‘cause I am?” And finally, he begins the shoegaze heavy “Tired” in a bout of introspection, asking himself “is it in my head?/ is there anything to do?/ was it something I said?” And yet, through the smoldering wails of guitar and Solomon’s tired moan towards the end of each of these tracks, it’s clear these questions are all rhetorical, and will most likely never be answered. And ultimately, their frustrations with this sound most powerful and realized in the self-aware beast “Artificial,” where Solomon, surrounded on all sides by red hot, turbulent guitar, shouts “nothing is fair” before again falling captive to Stevenson’s disjointed bassline, and indirectly, the pressure to fully accept that observation.
With this album also came a lush production quality that Moaning hadn’t yet embraced due to their exclusively live presence over the past ten years, and there are moments – like the slightly bizarre, off kilter synth and elastic vocals of “Close” – where those experimental desires shine through, and, combined with their unique, youthful energy, they more than get away with it in the end. In fact, I kept wanting those desires to come back – especially in the last half of the album – as tracks like “For Now,” “Useless,” and even closer “Somewhere in There,” while razor sharp in tone, ultimately sounded like angry filler, just a thick, impenetrable wall of sound, noise for noise’s sake.
The existence of these three tracks are especially frustrating, considering that Moaning already proved earlier in the album that they have the ability to flawlessly deliver a classic noise punk track, one with unpredictability, energy, and dimension, one that manages to check off every box on the list for all that they introduced at the beginning, being youthful angst, frustration with modern society, and yes, even heartbreak, and it is for these reasons that “The Same” exists as the clear stunner of this debut. Solomon begins with a deep, slurred drawl barely audible above the thick expanse of guitar and bass, then slowly grows in power, asking the most existential question of them all: “what’s next?” then provides the catch phrase of every twenty something trying to find success in their particular field – “we’ll see how it goes.”
It is the not knowing that makes it both incredibly exciting and incredibly frightening to be a creator, no, fuck it, anyone trying to make it in anything these days, and proves just how resilient the human spirit has to be in order to keep going – Moaning manage to sum it up in one simple phrase: “we’re the same, everything else has changed.”
photo by Michael Schmelling