This first release by British Columbia-based Johnny and the Moon generates two distinct strains of sound, the more prominent of the two the result of a modest dip into the deeply worn wells of Dylanesque folk and Americana (Canadiana?), a venture that floats reverentially through nearly all of the eleven tracks, whether the dusty highway ballad “All Things Gonna Come Back Around” or campfire romps like “Johnny and the Devil”. Then there are departures from this old time comfort music, moments when Johnny and the Moon no longer seems relegated to a place-holding moniker for Dante DeCaro‘s solo project, (one that only happened to be recorded with friends). Many times, a switch is flipped without warning, and a sudden glint of something ambient and synth-heavy flickers above the surface. In its current manifestation, the project remains pieced together with these discontinuities of vision begging reconciliation.
There are plenty of moments where DeCaro’s folk tunes seem more carefully tuned to these divergent methods. A song like “Little Red Cat” marks a certain synergy. Though it begins with honkey tonk piano, it’s insistently minor, unlike many of the more southern-bent tracks, with flute-apeing synths and a rough-shod drum soon tumbling into the arrangement. DeCaro sings what, unaccompanied, might recall the earnest performance of a Dave Van Ronk unadulterated by contemporary influence. At the same time, the track slowly simmers towards an extraneous, tantalizing few seconds when Gang Gang Dance may or may not have hijacked Johnny and the Moon’s Shawnigan Lake barn and burned a b-side onto the track’s last moments.
It’s not exactly fair to truly experimental acts to call the stranger moments of Johnny and the Moon much more than brief expeditions, with an occasional reliance on quirky instruments, perhaps most notably, and most rewarding, the toy piano and cut up hiss-beats on “Tamed A Lion,” or the percussion produced with the shallow reverb and the dense prattle of another bedroom Caribou in “Kid Heaven”. Still, these steps toward the contemporary stifle the superficial warning signs that Johnny the Moon might be a bought and sold backing band of friends fronted by a man who himself knows a thing or two about session musicianship, having probably learned something of it in both Hot Hot Heat and Wolf Parade. On the other hand, were this album simply eleven folk tracks, they’d have their own referential weight, their titles nodding recognition of those who came before, with “Scarlet Town”, “Green, Green Rocky Road” and “Oleana” all traditional pieces that bear more than a vague resemblance to track names on Johnny and the Moon’s track list.