R. Stevie Moore
Lo Fi Hi Fives
The Nashville musician R. Stevie Moore is considered a godfather of American indie D.I.Y. homemade pop music; he’s sometimes lumped in the “outsider music” crowd, but he understands pop music too well to be an outsider. Categories for Moore are often inadequate; even the “lo-fi” label, included in the name of the compilation at hand, Lo Fi Hi Fives, isn’t really accurate, because for Moore, it’s less of an aesthetic rather than just what you get when you make the most of what you have. And nobody has ever accused him of slacking, being prolific to the point of compulsion―allegedly, he has created more than 500 albums (yes, you read that correctly: albums) over the last four decades.
Moore, a multi-instrumentalist, has a broad style that at various times brings to mind ‘70s/’80s pop acts like XTC, ELO, and Todd Rundgren; there are other elements of wackiness and irrepressibility, evoking Eugene Chadbourne or The Fugs, and there’s also a sort of misfit charm―perhaps a hint of friendly awkwardness. Lo Fi Hi Fives features a few nicely done pastiches, including the Beach Boys-esque “Here Comes Summer Again” and the psychedelic “I Go Into Your Mind,” which evokes “Strawberry Fields Forever” and has an amazing, perfectly executed ending with strings, harp runs, Theremin waves, and a final gong hit. Moore sings about the absurdity of routine using a semi-goofy voice on “Another Day Slips Away,” and the compilation also features a healthy selection of collaborations, such as “Dutch Me” with Ariel Pink, and the irresistible power-pop burst “Sentimental Ties,” co-written and sung by Lane Steinberg.
Considering Moore’s vast catalog, a compilation like Lo Fi Hi Fives is welcome, although a single-CD (or double-LP) collection is incapable of capturing his entire range. Smartly, the collection doesn’t attempt to do that, but instead, it leans on his later work and picks out some real keepers with instantly memorable hooks; the aim is to be both inviting and suitably representative, and it’s a perfect starting place for newcomers.
Wild Belle / It’s Too Late
Close to a decade ago, saxophonist Elliot Bergman started his band NOMO, an Afro-beat ensemble that morphed into a more complicated beast, drawing from avant-garde jazz, Krautrock, and other sources. His new group is Wild Belle, formed with his younger sister Natalie as lead vocalist, keeping the eclecticism of NOMO but centering on reggae instead of Afro-beat as the principal genre; with a debut album on the horizon, Wild Belle’s signing with Columbia has yielded two EPs so far, Wild Belle and It’s Too Late.
Wild Belle begins with the group’s signature―and best so far―track “Keep You,” introducing the outfit’s mood and approach, with the familiar reggae tug from the piano and reverb-drenched guitar chords on the off-beat. What’s striking is an acute attention to detail, including a low-tuned snare drum, some electronic beeps and boops for a modern spice, and Elliot’s dirtied-up saxophone sound. Natalie sings with two general styles: a high siren-song voice for the chorus and a sort of soul-pop method, with a Billie Holiday-esque enunciation, for the verses. The track works just fine, but when it’s over, you kind of wish it held its trance a little longer.
The other two tracks on Wild Belle are also on the It’s Too Late EP: “It’s Too Late” takes an alternate reggae-pop route, using a bass anchor mirrored by a synth line, and kalimba and sax accents, and “Backslider” is even less outwardly a reggae track, featuring its own type of pulsation with malleted percussion and little synth tone blossoms. They’re not quite as compelling as “Keep You,” and although nicely layered, the duo could’ve given them an extra push; the lyrics are conspicuously unremarkable, as well. Also included on It’s Too Late is a remix of the title track by Dave Sitek (of TV on the Radio), which, strangely, I actually prefer to the original, with its bubbly electronic percolations, dub-influenced reverb, and abrupt beatbox rhythms. Although not perfect, this is a promising start for Wild Belle, and they would be wise to remain eclectic and detail-oriented and tighten up their songwriting.