A sophomore record which is as likable as it is loud
Moose Blood do it again
I could spend the first paragraph of this review catching you up on Moose Blood’s history, but chances are you’re already aware of the Canterbury quintet, and have likely heard their stellar No Sleep Records-released debut I’ll Keep You In Mind From Time To Time. If you haven’t, you should go and do that instead of reading this review. Emo is a gang, and you’ve been missing out. The problem with releasing a record like I’ll Keep You In Mind, especially when that record seems to go down as an instant classic within the genre, is that you have to follow it and deliver on the standards set by that first release. The bands second LP, Blush, when viewed this way, is an exceptional sophomore record which builds on what made its predecessor such a success while adding a few new elements and intricacies into the mix.
It isn’t quite as anthemic, nor is it quite as emotional as Moose Bloods 2014 outing, but what it lacks in punch Blush makes up for elsewhere, most notably in a shift towards a more upbeat, radio-friendly sound. There’s a reason the likes of Honey and Knuckles have been on steady radio rotation over the last few weeks, and it’s because they’re summer songs through and through. They play out as if built for the season, and as such proved solid lead singles when setting the tone for the records majority – more optimistic than Moose Blood have perhaps allowed themselves to be in the past. Where I’ll Keep You In Mind was a winter-evening accompaniment, Blush shines in the daylight during infectious choruses, which still remain suitably big this time around. Both tracks feature within an electrifying first half, one which does follows a similar pattern as it progresses, the songs uplifting whilst still capturing the cathartic quality which coated the band’s debut LP. The formula Moose Blood boast on the first half of Blush has been near-perfected, from the opening highs of Pastel to the pleasant nod-along needling of Glow. These songs, and those in-between are delightfully catchy, crisp and pristine in their delivery. They’re as buoyant as the boat featuring on Glow during one of most memorable choruses, on a record full of memorable choruses. Blush‘s blend isn’t anything particularly new, and Moose Blood aren’t offering anything groundbreaking, but they’ve never been a band who have needed to be. That being said, nor is Blush as straightforward as its string of one-word song titles suggests it to be; there’s a creative complexity to it, especially in the second half, and can by no means be considered a watering-down or diminishment of the band’s sound. It changes things up, and it succeeds in doing so for the most part – one or two tracks aside. What really sells Blush though, is that there’s an enthusiastic energy to it all, and even though it’s expressed in a slightly different way this time around, Moose Blood lose nothing in tidying up their approach to songwriting.
It’s also worth noting that this songwriting relies less so on the past inspiration of others. When reviewing I’ll Keep You In Mind two years ago I highlighted that the record felt a little like an imitation of genre peers, and I still believe it does in 2016. This isn’t the case with Blush, which abandons the nostalgia-drenched references to Nirvana and Dashboard Confessional, and instead carves out its own path instead. While I’ll Keep You In Mind was indeed a highly confident and self-assured release, Blush is the sound of Moose Blood really finding their feet after a meteoric rise to prominence in the last two years. The grand, emphatic finish to Shimmer, and the suckerpunch of closing track Freckle see the band really reach their potential, and the two songs feature during a varied second half which sees the Canterbury quintet expand their sound even further. Most of Blush appears light-hearted enough, but the final three songs (Shimmer, Spring and Freckle) lower the tone of the record, which eases its way into darker territory towards its close. Despite the new-found optimism that permeates the rest of Blush, things become weighted emotionally here. The latter half of the record in particular sees vocalist Eddy Brewerton wear his heart on his sleeve, turning inwards, whereas the opening songs burst outwards in a colourful bloom. Freckle finds him ruminating on the distance which stems from touring, tired of ‘counting down the days’ after only a week away. It’s a grounded closer to finish an elated record, underlining that things can’t always be positive no matter how positive things sound. However, it isn’t the most sobering song on Blush, nor is it the highlight of the record. That honour goes to the heartfelt and poignantly penned Spring, which truly leaves its mark on the release, subtly sweet to match the season but with far more going on in the foreground as Brewerton laments a loss (‘It’s three years on, it’s not old news / still coming to terms being without you’). It’s as powerful and personal as Blush gets, and elsewhere the record impacts on a different emotional level by delivering easily relatable lines and swelling amidst small details like tattoos on knuckles and seeing similarities in clouds. It makes for a release which is immensely likeable, and this appeal is only bolstered by polished production, which lends a glow to Glow and a shimmer to Shimmer despite lines like ‘We can start again / we can just be friends who share a bed.’
Blush, frequently, is in fact the dictionary definition of likeable – and as a result it isn’t an easy record to criticize, if there was even a great deal to criticise. Sixth track Cheek stands out as the weakest song on the record, but is by no means a bad selection; it simply seems to lack, more lax in its delivery than the other tracks. Following it, Sway tries a different approach, echoing guitars and fuzzy feedback sitting too far behind some forcibly delivered vocals from Brewerton. It doesn’t really feel like Moose Blood, perhaps feeling too much like fellow Brits The 1975 instead, and is the only point at which the records consistency staggers slightly. As such, Blush loses some momentum towards the middle, but it’s a brief lull during a record which rarely relents or drops in quality. Outside of Sway, in terms of the bigger picture, the band’s recent rise in popularity can be comparable to that of The 1975. Like I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It, Blush seems to scream that its creators are heading in the right direction, illuminating the bands future like the respective artworks were more illuminated than their predecessors. Blush seems to constantly be propelling Moose Blood towards something bigger, and it further establishes them as one of the most engaging and compelling bands currently occupying the crowded British scene (and somehow dominating it also). If I’ll Keep You In Mind… was as good as the UK had to offer in 2014, there’s a chance that Blush might just be the same two years on, an improvement stylistically if not always quite as pleasing sonically. It’s tamer, but not by a great deal, simply smoothing out some edges whilst making itself much more accessible in the process. This is a record which shouldn’t discourage a single existing fan, and should pull in plenty more in the process.
Moving Home, Moose Blood’s first EP, happened to be the first seven-inch record I ever bought, and three and a half years later Blush proves itself to be another essential addition to my collection. It deserves to feature in other record collections, or iTunes libraries elsewhere – an excellent release which ticks all of the boxes a sophomore record should. Moose Blood, as they have been for a while now, are still carrying the torch for British indie / emo-rock. It’s a torch which is undoubtedly burning bright – as bright as Blush burns throughout. For its majority, this is a record which blazes beautifully.
Listen to: Honey / Spring / Freckle