There’s a messy strain of ‘freak’ in the ‘folk’ blood these days. One need not look far into the blogosphere to find Local Natives and their dark, rhythmic ‘freak-folk’; Blitzen Trapper and their psychedelic ‘freak-folk’; whatever freaky folk Sufjan Stevens is up to these days.
The actual definition of ‘freak-folk’ is rather questionable. In recent times, a best guess can be tilted at ‘anything noticeably weirder than James Taylor‘. But whatever it is, Night Moves offers a hazy, atmospheric, spaghetti-western melodramatic brand. And on their debut LP, Colored Emotions, the Minneapolis-based probably-stoners’ woozy, soaring melodies and truly humid jams form the closest thing to a characteristically ‘freak-folk’ album possible.
This is because Night Moves do an excellent job of synthesizing their various, acid-soaked influences into a cohesive and engaging sound. All over Colored Emotions, Night Moves evokes the best of dizzy surf-rock guitar lines, smoky jam-session rhythms, and rich dream-pop textures. The easy-breezey steady rock of Family Tongues evokes some Instagram shot of a lazy, sunny beach with teenagers and ukeleles and Jamaican Red Stripe beer. Similarly, Only A Child’s shaky, cavernous shuffle and floating vocals, spread thin between chunks of slowed-tempo acoustic strumming, recall a more summer-y Kinks. The song, almost a brainchild of Brian Wilson, but more deeply drenched in kool-aid rather than sun, offers just as much of the later 1960s as it does of Arcade Fire.
Unfortunately, the influences weigh rather heavily. Headlights and Country Queen sink too easily into a familiar early-1970s country-folk fog, while Horses traipses a bit uneasily into Dark Side Of The Moon Territory. In this light, also, many of the songs of Colored Emotions are not strikingly original. Night Moves crafts an album-long, sticky, sweltering vibe, but fails to provide 10 legitimately exciting sets of melody of and lyrics.
That being said, the record hits very satisfying highs. Singer John Pelant’s falsetto’d “I never wanted your love” refrain in Old Friends, followed by the line “I never want your kidney stones,” is a thrilling and open moment, and feels vibrant and electric. And the triumphant and colorful cinematic flourishes of title track Colored Emotions, which ease into a gently warped, wholly warm and fuzzy rock groove, splash heat around in waves. The song’s delicious, chic harmonies and craggy guitar work make it an easy hit.
It’s obvious in their music that the members of Night Moves grew up together: the band crafts incredibly tight arrangements of complex, space-age country rock songs that require patience, vision, and time to create. Often, this approach is impressive. And, frankly, it is not always successful. But whether or not the songs themselves take off, Colored Emotions is an important album for understanding what’s really going on when people say ‘freak-folk’. Because each of its songs create a vibe that is simply too folky and too freaky not to give it its proper name – and that in itself is a victory. At least for those grasping at genre labels in a time where there are too many to keep count.