Fever Moon – Keepers Park – Album Review
Been looking forward to tellin’ ya about this record…Fever Moon has got some great things goin’ on. Looks like this project/band based out of Tokyo has been extra active if you’re looking at their pages like Bandcamp online, where you’ll find they’ve got not only Keepers Park coming out on November 4th, but another album called The Long Chains Of Love on the very same day too. This is in addition to the other four records they’ve put out within the last two & a half years as well. There’s no doubt that they’re moving things quickly as of late, but if you’re really reading into the liner notes of Fever Moon’s history, you’ll realize that they’ve been keeping a ton on the shelf for years – like their whole second record called Pissing On My Own Grave was built on songs that had been written more than a decade earlier.
Many of you know exactly what it’s like to have those floodgates open officially & finally after long last. While this kind of output usually needs a bit more objectivity and scrutiny in terms of what should or shouldn’t be included to a degree, I’m also on the side of strike while the iron is hot too. We’re all only here for so long on this floating rock we share…get out there and make that music while you can y’all.
So! Fever Moon. Led by Jay Holmes (Guitar/Vocals), accompanied by Nick Bello (Bass) & Darryl Baker (Drums), and featuring all kinds of rad people & artists in the lineup of Keepers Park, including players from bands like War On Drugs, The Nurse, Viawatt, and Mott The Hoople – in addition to having the one & only Matthew Barnhart, who has been mixin one of my all-time favorites – Superchunk – when playin’ live for years, as well as managing their tours & other bands like The New Pornographers & CHVRCHES. You get the point – obviously it’s a great time to be in Fever Moon right now. For a band that is “Tokyo-based, obscurity bound” – I’d say they’ve been turning the right heads their way and getting some truly remarkable attention from both their peers within the industry, and well-established legendary talents.
The first thing I noticed on “You,” was that Keepers Park locked right into place immediately – you can hear the tightness from performance to production, and that this band is playin’ with serious purpose. It’s kind of got this like…rhythmic vibe to it that’s actually not all that far removed from something like Radiohead’s The King Of Limbs record without actually sounding a thing like it – but that’s one heck of a rhythm section & sound to be comparable to at the core of it all. Nick’s bass is nothing short of pure brilliance and really gets this first cut moving – but all-in-all, I’m stoked about everything I hear right away. Jay actually reminds me so much of the singer for a band called Cold Water Flat from back in the day – and pretty much all I’ve ever had on my Christmas list is another act that would remind me of that kickass band somehow. Fever Moon accomplishes that perfectly, and takes a similar sound like Cold Water Flat had & evolves it solidly for the right here & now. “You” is freakishly tasty dear readers, dear friends…it’s dark, curious, and mysterious…the subtle intensity of this first cut is straight off the charts.
The hot-streak continues for quite a while in this eleven-song set. Like you’d probably notice within a song like “You,” there’s a slight hint of The Cure at the roots of these tunes as well…the murkier side of their melodies on that first track, but their unbridled happiness on the second with “Ronnie Spectre.” There are SO MANY things I love about this cut that it’s got me spinning a little as to where to start. Ultimately, I’m going with the combination of true grit and magical melody this band is so clearly capable of – that’s what you realize you’re listening to in Fever Moon on songs like “Ronnie Spectre.” From amazing inclusions like string sounds into the background, or the heights the hooks will reach, or the remarkable instrumentation you’ll find & the way they play this track…like, the guitars are straight up killer and I love the way Jay plays this cut…everything stacks up to a giant win here. At the end of the day, the most you’re going to find me conceding to ya is that Holmes has the occasional rough & gruff edge to a note or two that you know could potentially be smoother or more precise in the way his voice could match the melody…but even that stuff…I dunno…that was part of the reason I loved Cold Water Flat back in the day too. The best way I can describe it is that sometimes imperfections can make things perfect in their own strange way…and those of you who grew up in the Grunge era like I did know exactly what I mean. We don’t always need everything spit-shined to a polish – we want music to be REAL, and Fever Moon seems to get that bang-on. From verse to chorus, from start to finish, I’m all about “Ronnie Spectre” and felt like the biggest highlights of this song would pale any slight blemishes. Like…YES…I want that last line of the main hooks in “and I know someday I’d finally destroy you” to go UP and reach the savage potential served up by the music & melody – you probably will too – but what I’m not doing is trading that one tiny moment for the rest of the pure brilliance surrounding it in this cut. “Ronnie Spectre” is gold, and re-ups the high standards set at the beginning of this record to even higher.
“Rose” competes fantastically. When Fever Moon leans on melody, it’s supremely effective and oddly endearing in all the right ways. Even as Jay’s singing about life changing him in ways he can’t control and not everything working out the way he might personally choose, “Rose” ends up having this whole vibe you just wanna cheer for. At its core, you’ve got much more of a sound that harkens back to the golden age of 50s/60s melodies, disguised in that grittiness you’ve come to know and love from Fever Moon. Which works for me without a doubt…hopefully, at least some of you out there will feel the same. If you were to tell me that Fever Moon is a bit of an acquired taste of sorts, I’d still readily agree with ya – but it’s a taste I personally acquired long ago and have been fiendin’ for ever since. So you got it – I’m in their corner, 100%. I love the guitar solo in this song, I love the steadiness that exists between this band’s rhythm section in Nick & Darryl, and I love the unpredictable way that Jay sings it too. It’s not a matter of somewhat expecting the melody & flow of this tune to head in the direction that it does – I think that we all kind of get where a track like “Rose” is going…but it’s that like…edge-of-your-seat anticipation about how Holmes will sing his part that keeps things electrifying and exciting. Because I don’t think we can always assume everything is going to work out perfectly if I’m being honest with ya – but I also think that, whenever it does, it’s like an audible gem you wanna hear from a real diamond in the rough.
That’s who it is! Yes I’ve already made a couple of comparisons and most of them would probably make more sense to my ears than yours – but here’s another – Fever Moon is a lot like the independent band falterboy, but like…armed with material that has a lot more depth and strength to it is all. At least for the most part – I’ll readily admit that “Telepathic Seizure” seemed to be that first noticeable dip…not a song that tanked the record by any stretch of the imagination, but nowhere near the magic and balance you find in the first three tracks of the album either. So this is where objectivity really starts to become important…this is where decisions need to be made…this is where, if you’re Jay and you’re in Fever Moon, you have to think about whether the goals are simply to get more music out there, or if the goals are to make music that hits the remarkably high standards of what we hear in the first three tracks of this record and be a bit more patient when it comes to understanding how rare those gems can truly be. I like a LOT about “Telepathic Seizure” – but I also liked a LOT about records like DGC Rarities Vol. 1 and This Is Fort Apache back in the day too…I liked a LOT about the Empire Records Soundtrack too…and these are albums that would be hotly debated regarding the true quality & consistency of their content overall. There are lots of great moments within “Telepathic Seizure” & some lyricism that really stands out too…but if we’re talking about strength of the material overall, we end up feeling a bit of a drop by comparison to the rest of what we’ve heard so far on Keepers Park. Which can be a natural thing too – those are the dynamics of an album…not every cut can always be our favorite song, right? The guitar solo on this track is another killer highlight, and the way the band continues to play on such a united front is always enticing…their combined musicianship gives you reasons to listen to everything they do.
Some of these cuts, like “Giving Up The Beast,” can give you that feeling that what we hear will make for an even bigger highlight when being played live, as opposed to the version we find on the album here. And that happens…sometimes that’s just straight up beyond a band’s control…sometimes it’s just a feeling that we get from our side of the speakers, and heck, it’s a reason to get off your ass and go SEE Fever Moon crush a song like “Giving Up The Beast” if you dig what you hear already! I even think the way that the ending works would make for a stunningly memorable moment from the stage…to end up in the delicate breakdown they find, after all the intensity & energy we’ve experienced along the way – I mean, you can practically see people fishing frantically through their pockets for their flames to end this experience with the lighters-up finale it deserves. No real issues here as far as I can tell…I think it’s a cut that might not have as many noticeable individual hooks in the songwriting to a degree, but I felt like the entirety of “Giving Up The Beast” could go on to be memorable for many listeners out there. It might not be the first track people gravitate towards, but I think this is one of those tracks that adds real bench strength to Keepers Park overall. That first explosion of energy on the way into the first verse is worth the price of admission on its own if I’m being honest with ya…everything else you hear after is a bonus.
“Corpus Chris” is a strong song…one that nearly reaches that standard set at the outset of the album – very, very close. I love moments like that quick piano/keys break before punching into the main meat of the energy within this track…at the point it occurs, you’re around ninety seconds in and practically don’t expect that’s even coming, you know? Fever Moon doesn’t really seem like the band to mess around in the slower-side of sound too often based on what we’ve heard so far on Keepers Park though, so I’ll admit, it would have been stranger not to find that eventual spot where they kick things up a notch and let that beautiful distortion come rippin’ on outta the amps. Right in the middle of the lineup of songs on this album…I kept going back & forth about this song and whether or not it was quite as killer as the first three tracks are…and I feel like I ultimately settled on the fact that it IS. I mean…I can’t think of a single thing I’d do to it to make it any better than it came out – I feel like Fever Moon nailed it, 100% – and I also feel like, as a song, it’s a bit more innovative & ambitious than a lot of the tracks on this album too. It explores more sonic distance and terrain…let’s put it that way instead. I like that we go from the humble vibes of a fairly simplified cut to the full strength of the band united as one, and the depth we discover in the sound and production on “Corpus Chris.” Yessir! I felt like this track was essential to this lineup of songs on Keepers Park and restored the set-list to the higher standards we really wanna hear after all. It took me a few listens to come to that conclusion, but this is one absolutely addictive track – so believe me when I tell ya, a couple more spins is always welcome in that regard…a real labor of love.
The way that “Whistle Talk” filters out in such a strange breakdown early on into the song tripped me right the fuck out…I dig moments like that, even if I’m not always as convinced they serve the song. To me, it’s a bit more of a case of ‘what else can we do to make this work’ sometimes when you hear moves like that being made…like the band is searching for something beyond the material itself to make the difference for us listeners, or right the course of a ship beginning to steer itself off track. I’ll say this – if “Whistle Talk” was YOUR favorite track on the record, I feel like I’d understand where you’re coming from. In terms of accessibility and what listeners would universally respond to en masse, there’s probably more to be found in “Whistle Talk” than there is in arguably in many of the songs in this set. Is it MY favorite? No. I still enjoy it – and I think the hooks are freakin’ memorable for sure…but I’m just not convinced that it’s the vibe I’d be looking for when I’m putting on a record by Fever Moon personally – that’s all. Ultimately, there are LOTS of positives to be found here that SHOULD make it that way – it’s a more polished cut when it comes right down to it, which is really almost the opposite of what I was talking about earlier when discussing “Ronnie Spectre” in this review. We trade a bit of that raw edge I personally love about Fever Moon for a smoother sound here on “Whistle Talk” – and like I was saying, that could end up working for the band big-time when it comes to the masses out there. There’s a good chance this track becomes a real favorite for the people out there…I’ll readily concede that. For myself, I think a lot of the strengths in Fever Moon’s music not only come through the musicianship, but through Jay’s lyricism too…and “Whistle Talk” is a bit deficient in that regard by comparison to the rest of the set – it’s got its moments, but it’s hooks are just a tad on the repetitive side for me. I think he’ll convince a lot of people that might have been on the fence about his vocals with this song though – this dude can sing & there’s no doubt about that…I prefer his gruffer & grittier side, and you might prefer this instead.
I think I feel about the same way towards “Séance Tonight” as I do about “Whistle Talk” on a fundamental level…just a little on the repetitive side for my taste, but definitely a track that will have no problem lodging itself into your brain hook-wise, and that’s of course, priceless. “I’m bringing out the Freon tonight” was one of the more unique lines I’ve heard this year…I’m pretty sure I could go back through my entire catalog of songs I’ve listened to here at our pages and the mainstream stuff on my playlists, and I’d never find another song that’s mentioned that before…which is honestly, really cool to me. Think of how rare something like that actually IS in music! I always think that kind of stuff is awesome…word-selection, sound-selection…these things MATTER in the craft when it comes right down to it, you know? As to how in the heck Freon becomes a part of a “Séance Tonight,” perhaps I’ll never know…I am…hmmm…drastically uniformed in terms of what would create the best séances out there in this world we’re living in. I tried to conjure up Merlin the wizard one Halloween after reading a book called The 21 Lessons Of Merlin when I was in my teenage years, but no Freon was used in the process. I didn’t end up seeing or contacting Merlin either, so there you go, maybe Freon would have helped out! Anyhow. I’m off on a tangent here. “Séance Tonight” is a good tune – I LOVE the way that it starts with the sample vocals at the beginning…that’s definitely my favorite part of the song personally, but overall, I found myself getting more attached to the rest of this cut with every subsequent spin of the record.
The title-track works well…it restores that grittiness & raw edge that I dig so very much about Fever Moon and the songs that Jay creates. “Keepers Park” has that darkness, that live-wire energy, and unpredictable nature that keeps us engaged and on the edge of our seat wondering what comes next as we listen. It’s the longest track on the record by nearly a full minute coming in at just shy of six in total, but LISTEN to how brilliantly the extra space is used will ya? Heading into the third minute of this song is an outright SPECIAL moment in time y’all, mark my words…it could very well be one of the most potent highlights found on this entire record, and it’s achieved by dialing back the sound & somehow NOT the intensity at the very same time…I don’t even know how you CAN achieve that, but Fever Moon DOES. “Keepers Park” plays like the finale of this record in many ways…and personally, I’d readily put this cut right up there with the very best you’ll find on this album…I think it’s genuinely fascinating from start to finish, and displays some of the most significant highlights in their instrumentation & ideas by far. I’d be taking a good long look at this track in general as the blueprint for the pathway forward from here if I was in Fever Moon. Aside from a couple of rougher opening lines that “Keepers Park” begins with in each verse, I felt like this track found an incredibly flawless gear that still accentuated their raw, electric vibes perfectly overall. This would be on my list of songs I gotta see played LIVE before I’m worm-food. LISTEN to that moment around the 2:50 mark will ya? That’s awe-inspiring stuff right there is what that is – and it continues on in that amazing gear for well over a minute to follow…the kickass mid-section of “Keepers Park” is seriously something to behold & an experience that I ain’t gonna forget anytime soon.
I’d also probably be taking a good look at “Midnight On The Mountain” as a potential single for this album too – this is straight-up enticing energy in a solid Power Pop-meets-Punk Rock style that’s insanely engaging right from the very moment it starts to the final seconds. “We were sawdust in the grinder” is such a wicked line to get people paying attention right from the beginning – like I said, Jay’s full of smart lyricism…we might not always know exactly what he means, but effective, it certainly IS, regardless. He writes words that have you turning your head to be like, ‘did he really just say what I think he said?’ – and YES…he probably did – that’s the real effect of uniqueness in songwriting. The guitar highlights are freakin’ fireworks in this track…the rhythm section has never let up throughout the course of this entire record…the vocals from Holmes are some of the best & most consistent tone-wise from start to finish that you’ll find on any cut on Keepers Park, and it’s just plain ol’ freakin’ FUN too y’all. Like…if you’ve ever spent a devious night or two out way too late partying it up outside when no one else would even dare to be awake just prior to the sun coming up again, believe me, you’ll hear this song and realize it was the ANTHEM to moments like that in your life that you’ve always been searching for. The good news is that it’s here now. Even if it’s way too late for old farts like me now, I can still fantasize about reliving my wild youth out there, trekking up the side of an actual mountain, just to find this one patch of space underneath a television satellite…one big-ass sign that we all used to party & drink underneath. Why? Because we fucking COULD – no other reason. We didn’t need reasons, or logic, or daylight…a bear could have been right around the corner from us on those nights, and would have likely just left us alone in fear of disrupting a bunch of humans in the freak-scene doin’ their thang. “Midnight On The Mountain” is such a perfect moment in time, executed with all the heart, purpose, and passion a song like this deserves – it’s another song amongst the record’s very best, and arguably one of the most accessible tracks on Keepers Park too…this song is guaranteed to satisfy ALL who listen.
It’s SO NICE, you get it twice in fact. They re-spin “Midnight On The Mountain” again right after, in a special Japanese version. Now…normally, you regular (okay, four) readers know I practically NEVER recommend having a song appear twice in one lineup, let alone coming back-to-back on a record. There IS huge risk in that regard…you can take a track we all love, and potentially burn it out twice as quick, no matter where it sits in the lineup, let alone being a back-to-back appearance. That being said, there ARE the occasional rare gems that can potentially withstand the extra wear & tear…and I think we’ve really got one of them here with “Midnight On The Mountain.” When “Midnight On The Mountain (Japanese)” starts up right afterwards, it’s like you get a bonus second-half of the song you were just listening to…and given that we’ll ALL want more of it already and were quite likely just about to push repeat ANYWAY…I mean…everything works out in this situation, does it not? It’s more of a good thing, which is a GREAT thing…and the uniqueness of having the song sung in Japanese gives this second-act a solid twist that’ll have everyone genuinely interested, while keeping the hooks completely intact too. I’ll put it to ya this way…I don’t think there’s a circumstance or a time where I wouldn’t look forward to MORE of this particular song…so you betcha…”Midnight On The Mountain” appearing twice was a really good move in my opinion, in a space where I’d normally advise a ton of caution. Proving that going with your own instincts can lead to extraordinary results, Jay and his crew in Fever Moon made a risky call by having this song appear two times at the end of Keepers Park & come out with a huge win because of it.
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