It's almost as if Richard Davies is intentionally deconstructing the pop song dozens of times over during the course of new album, Tonight's Music, out Friday via Fire Records. Taken as a whole, this nearly-epic 24-song release is one of the highlights of the year for any fan of this songwriter and his rich, if spare, back-catalog. Taken in slices, each cut shines with the sort of stark originality this guy's work has always been known for and one could almost feel like the wait for new Moles music had been worth it.
Tonight's Music offers up 2 dozen bits of Davies' skewed sense as an artist. Sure, there are straightforward indie gems here like "You're In My Band" and the decidedly Grant McLennan-ish "Slings and Arrows", but for every cut like those there's another one that's a bit odd, like the Syd-styled "Home For The Hobos" or the Sebadoh-like "Needle And Thread", Bob Fay from that band being on this release and playing the skins on this cut. And perhaps what a listener can take away is that Davies sounds equally comfortable in all these guises, whether making something lilting or cranking out something abrasive. Not since the glory days of this country's own Lou Barlow (Sebadoh, Folk Implosion, Dinosaur, Jr.) has an artist blurred the lines between genres to such a great effect. And, rather than seem haphazard, the mixing of styles here has resulted in something wonderful, something that was worth the wait, seeing as this is the first new Moles album in 20 years. Collected on that superb Fire Records compilation last year, the earlier Moles stuff had a similar style and perhaps "Chills" and the title cut on this album are closer in spirit to those previous Moles tracks. Still, there's some noticeable progression in Davies' craft evident on Tonight's Music as the 24 songs here feel looser in spots with some, like "Beauty Queen Of Watts" and "Artificial Heart" for example, being altogether catchier than the chamber pop of Davies' work in Cardinal, or his last turn in The Moles.
What makes the music of The Moles so special, and what makes Tonight's Music so vital a prospect for a listener, is that this record is so full of melody, and creative spark throughout. And one can only hope that it's not another 20 years before there's another Moles release. Sure, the Richard Davies solo albums are fine albums but the outlet of The Moles is where he seems to feel a certain freedom as an artist. Rough and introspective in equal measure, these 24 tunes reward careful listening by both new fans and old ones. If the earlier releases were somehow like twisted cousins of Chills albums, Tonight's Music is closer in spirit to something from (oddly) Guided By Voices, or, more obviously, Pavement if one of those bands was trying to, as I said, deconstruct the indie pop form.
Defying easy descriptions, and appealing to a wide swath of indie fans from Flying Nun devotees to American lo fi scholars, Tonight's Music by The Moles is challenging but reassuring in large measure. Melodic and a bit strange in spots, this Moles album serves as a crash course into the pop genius of Richard Davies. Part lucid Syd Barrett, part oddball crank-version of Robert Forster, Richard Davies writes and performs songs in a manner unlike any one else in pop today. That the results are so uniformly good speaks volumes about his quality control as an artist. Without very much wasted here, the 24 songs on Tonight's Music are some of the best indie you're likely to hear in 2016. And, it goes without saying, some of the riskiest in some significant ways.
Tonight's Music by The Moles is out Friday via Fire Records.