My Favorite New Band, Moriarty

…has been my favorite new band for the past year or so. Below I’ll embed some of their videos in the hope that I can make you like them, too.

This is the first Moriarty song that I heard: “Private Lily,” from their debut album, Gee Whiz But This Is a Lonesome Town (2007, Naïve Records):

And here’s the second one that I heard, “Jimmy”:

Moriarty is a French band. Supposedly they derived their name from Dean Moriarty, not Professor James. À la the Ramones, the band members all claim Moriarty as their surname—Rosemary Moriarty, Tom Moriarty, Arthur Moriarty, etc.

Oshkosh Bend (album version) + a live version:

“Motel”:

For some reason, their old-timey shtick doesn’t irritate me the way so much retro-hipness does. And why is that? I’d argue that in this case, it isn’t mere affectation. Moriarty plays great music well; the rest is part of their identity, sure—but it’s secondary.

[Over the past year in Chicago, I’ve noticed a resurgence in popularity in the singing saw. (I just saw someone playing one on a steet corner the other night.) With all due respect, this always raises my dander, because in each case the act seems 95% novelty: “How queer! A saw that makes musickal sounds!” It’s been the Guy Maddin fan’s instrument of choice ever since the theremin fad grew old.]

I haven’t seen Moriarty drag out a singing saw yet, but I imagine that even if they did, they’d play it well.

(I suppose it also doesn’t hurt that they’re French.)

More music! A cover of Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence” (presented by La Blogotheque):

And another version of “Enjoy the Silence” (from France’s TV5Monde, with terrible editing—but it’s a spirited performance, and there’s a short interview at the end):

“Private Lily” on TVMonde5, also jarringly edited—but it’s a great performance:

“Cottonflower”:

“Fire Day”:

A cover of Tom Waits’s “Chocolate Jesus”:

“Animals Can’t Laugh”:

…And there’s more than that up at YouTube, if you’re interested.

Another pleasure: you’ll find there also dozens of covers of “Jimmy,” which I gather has become something of a hit in Europe (as it deserves to become elsewhere):

Happy listening!

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22 thoughts on “My Favorite New Band, Moriarty

    • The Decemberist ones or the Moriarty ones?

      I rather like the Moriarty photos, whereas the Decemberists just irk me. Part of it might be a sensual distinction: Moriarty always seems to be having a good time. Colin Meloy always looks like he’s holding back a bowel movement.

      I saw the Decemberists live once, and Meloy actually stopped a song because not enough of the audience would play along with some little game he was playing. He struck me as a crabby killjoy.

      ALTHOUGH I HASTEN TO ADD, before people pile on me for hating on the Decemberists, I do enjoy two of their songs:

      (Although maybe it’s cool to hate on the Decemberists now? Five years ago people wanted to eviscerate me for not liking them, but I can never keep track of such things.)

      • The Moriarty ones — except for *maybe* the one in the woods, they do not communicate “hipster” to me at all, they are very shiny and expensive-looking, I think it might be the lighting. You can tell there’s serious equipment on that shoot, no? The first thing the images reminded me of was major label acts like A Fine Frenzy or Eisley. This has nothing to do with the music.

          • …And I think there are ways acts with money sometimes present themselves visually to appeal to a more “hip” audience, w/ more “arty” shots, etc, and these folks definitely don’t seem to have those pretensions. I think I sort of meant my initial comment to reinforce what you were saying re: their focus is on the musicianship.

            • Yeah, they don’t strike me as pretentious at all—more good-natured, and fun-loving. Even when the lead singer (Rosemary M.) does things like cradle a taxidermied deer head, the effect strikes me less as calculated PR (see Björk’s swan dress), and more as the band having goofy fun.

              • Yeah, I guess that kind of example is where I get uncomfortable w/ the way the word “calculated” often gets used. As though art never involves calculation, or shouldn’t. Or should never involve attention-grabbing antics if one wants to be seen as sufficiently “deep” or “authentic.” I think there are folks who legitimately embrace a kind of disruptive aesthetics of shallowness. But I like the Bjork swan dress. I feel like Bjork is a genuine freak and probably liked it too, AND it was good for publicity (but really, I doubt she got any new listeners from that stunt, anything that would bring her more $, if that’s what we mean by ‘calculated,’ like ‘calculated’ means sullied by commercial objectives). And it also totally created a kind of bizarro chaos in the Oscars, which are this horrifically rigid space re: the construction of identity and gender and all that crap.

                • You are right about all that, of course. I think I had just soured on Björk by that point. Which was probably wrong of me, but.

                  At some point, though, I do get tired of constant spectacle, which is so readily available in the here and now. It’s become a lot less transgressive for artists to promote themselves as artworks, and more just The Thing to Do. Maybe I found it depressing when (I perceived) Björk as heading in that direction? It made her seem more like, say, Madonna to me—someone who uses constant fashion changes to keep people talking about her—whereas before that I hadn’t seen a kinship.

                  Of course, we are talking about rock stars, so I’m probably just being naive. And I do like the fantasy and spectacle of rock! (I know I’m advocating two contradictory positions here.)

                  Moriarty’s video for “Private Lily” is certainly calculated: having Pauline Acquart go topless in it generated a lot of attention for them (not to mention a ton of YouTube views). I don’t know why their doing stuff like that doesn’t irk me. (I like that video, and think it’s striking, although I also think it could have been executed better.)

      • My impression of The Decemberists and Meloy in particular has always been that they’re having tremendous fun. I don’t love all of their records, but have you listened to their album The Hazards of Love? Metal-ish concept album with some great songs and really stellar guest vocalists. You might like it.

        Not totally sold on this band at the moment but giving them time to sink in.

        • I haven’t heard that one yet, Mike—thanks for reminding me of it! I remember thinking back when it was announced that it might appeal to me more than their other work. I’ll check it out.

              • I like these better than some of their other more recent stuff I’ve heard, but I still can’t really get into it (apologies). It might just come down to my not liking Mr. Meloy’s voice. (I like the female vocalist on “The Wanting Comes in Waves,” but have to say I flinched when Meloy resumed singing. I wish he’d stop using his head voice!) (But he seems very much inside his head.)

                But beyond that, I think what I don’t like is that the Decemberists always sound so restrained to me (even here). They never cut loose. They’re clever, and I appreciate clever music, but I also like a healthy dollop of soul / funk / rhythm / whatever you want to call it. The Decemberists never really groove / rock / get my fist pumping / make me what to dance / again, whatever you want to call it. Which may just be me, of course…

                More this, please:

                Or this:

                Or this:

                I know Colin Meloy idolizes the Smiths, but I don’t think he gets that Morrissey’s appeal wasn’t just that he was clever—he was also deeply sensual and romantic.

                And the Smiths always make me want to dance. (When I’m not swooning—I mean, when I’m watching Morrissey, he’s just the sexiest fellow ever.)

                The Decemberists, by contrast, strike me as very stiff, and utterly sexless. I find this to be a problem with too many current indie bands—they’re all like the sterile “dreams” in Inception. Give me sexiness!

                A lot of this comes down to personal preference, of course: I like catchy music that’s sexy and layered and textured and that makes me want to move around (and I prefer emotional investment to the intellectual). With Moriarty, I get that.

              • That’s fair and makes sense. I feel sort of the same way about Sufjan Stevens. I like a couple of his albums but he’s so repressed that at this point all I can feel when I listen to him most of the time is the seething rage just beneath the surface, and I want him to let loose and scream for fucking once.

                • Fun fact: a college friend of mine is pals with Sufjan Stevens, used to make videos with him and Danielson (and I think was in Danielson’s horn section for a while). Tom Eaton, a very swell guy:

                  http://www.goodeaton.com/animation/

                  I like Stevens’s stuff, but, yeah, hard to get past the lead singer’s voice when you don’t like it.

                  God bless the Decemberists and all who sail with them. Thanks again for recommending those songs—I’m going to sit down and listen to the whole album.

  1. decemberist hating is a sport enjoyed by many. anything that can be described as hip or hipster is, the prefered prejudice of the day. not that you can’t legitimately hate their music, just that hip has become the easiest way to dismiss something or someone. thanks though for the moriarity vids. and i watched two lane blacktop, and really enjoyed it, based on your other thread, which was a great write up.

  2. You’re right that every time someone uses a singing saw it turns out to be 95% novelty. There’s one place where it isn’t – at the annual NYC Musical Saw Festival. With about 50 singing saw performers going on stage one after the other, the novelty is not a factor. If you haven’t heard of the festival, check out their videos page at http://www.musicalsawfestival.org

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