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. . . XYZ Wyndham Wallace , September 28th, 2009 12:32

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It's an accident of history that Moose are said to have inspired the term 'shoegazing'. An early Sounds review of the London band referred to singer Russell Yates' need to read lyrics taped to the floor while guitarist Kevin McCillop in turn kept his head down to focus on the numerous effects pedals that helped define the early sound of the band. But the subsequent use of the expression — to denote the heavily acts of the time whose primary interest was in losing themselves in an amorphous but melodic wall of noise — does the band no justice at all. Removed from that contemporary context, in fact, Moose sound next to nothing like any of the bands with whom they were associated: Ride, Chapterhouse, Slowdive et al. It's little wonder, therefore, that their debut album failed to live up to the expectations of an audience seeking polite oblivion.

Frankly, 1991's . . . XYZ sounds better today than it probably has done at any time since its release. In the intervening 18 years the sources upon which it drew — Tim Buckley, Glen Campbell, The Byrds — have become touchstones for much of the music that has become indie staple. While Moose's three early EPs, seven of whose tracks are included here, do much to explain why they were so misunderstood when their debut album was released — 'Jack' in particular reaches for the same tremulous borders that their alleged peers sought — the baker's dozen that makes up this opening full length are something else altogether.

Produced by Mitch Easter, whose early 80s work with REM is reprised here in the jangle of guitars on the likes of 'Polly' and the simple but effective take on Harry Nilsson's classic 'Everybody's Talking', . . . XYZ is a masterpiece of understatement. Dripping with sentiment and honesty, it's more interested in allowing listeners to drift through an English landscape surreally scattered with tumbleweed than amidst a psychotropic wash of guitar effects and strobe lights. Even the tracks that come closest to the latter trip are embellished with strings reminiscent of 'Wichita Lineman' (in the case of 'Sometimes Loving is The Hardest Thing To Do') or the traditional dawn chorus of a milkman on his rounds ('The Whistling Song').

For the most part, though, Moose here reveal themselves as a band whose love for country, with all its unashamed nostalgia and romanticism, has loosened up their hereditary stiff upper lips. Lead-off single 'Little Bird' rattles along at a jaunty pace, Duane Eddy twangs buried at its core, while 'I'll See You In My Dreams' is a lachrymose waltz worthy of a dusty western taproom and 'High Flying Bird' wouldn't sound out of place on a roadside diner jukebox.

But despite its American influences there remains at the heart of . . . XYZ an undeniable Englishness, in Yates' restrained delivery, the band's refusal to indulge themselves in their musical inspirations too heavily — unlike The Rockingbirds, another London act similarly enamoured with America's country past — and the belief that true sadness doesn't need to be spelt out to be effectively communicated. Indeed the album's title and closing track probably says more in its simple maudlin refrain — "Why? Why?" — than Music Row managed the whole of that achy breaky year.

Lost amongst The Scene That Celebrated Itself, . . . XYZ is ripe for rediscovery, and the additional tracks included — the spectral 'This River Will Never Run Dry' and the epic 'Do You Remember' (which proudly concedes their shoegazing roots) in particular - only enrich the story of a band who have been described, rather cruelly, as "not so much underrated as unheard". Hunt it down.

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Tim Russell
Sep 29, 2009 2:26am

About time this album got critically rehabilitated, it's one of my favourite albums of the 90s. Saw them in Manchester in 1991 headlining a triple bill with Stereolab and some lot called Verve (whatever happened to them?), and they were LOUD. Saw them in Paris supporting Ride a year later, and they'd become a very sweet country rock outfit, charming a couple of thousand noise-loving Parisians into submission. Cracking review Wallace!

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Tim Gow
Sep 30, 2009 1:50pm

Never saw Moose live but really loved this album when it came out. As Wallace suggests, it seemed quite at odds to everything else going on - and was quite underrated at the time. Glad XYZ's been rereleased and hope this Moose gets more of the limelight second time around.

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Tim Taylor
Jan 22, 2010 3:37am

I'll complete the "Tim" trifecta by simply saying Moose are an all-time sentimental favorite of mine and their music continues to astonish me with subtleties of song construction and lyrical delights. This was a splendid band whose proper time perhaps still hasn't come, and I suspect their four albums and various e.p.s will be listened to by a devoted following for many years to come.

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Dec 22, 2010 2:22am

I love this bands entire catalog of dreamy magic. From their early shoegazing sympathy of noise to their softer sweet side to their final departure of heavy produced synthpop with partially lost spirit on their last album "High ball me!" in 2000. This was the first album I heard from them and at first was put off by.

Great music for people with sophisticated yet simple minds of harmony. Other truly great artists I've found over the years from just browsing on the web include..
*The beat (ska revival)
*Lush (Shoegaze to Britpop)
*Bernadette La Hengst (German dance-synthpop)

These are slightly obscure but wonderfully fun artists to
listen to without a hold on the mainstream. Which is the way I like it.
Discover and enjoy and thank you.
Right now I'm looking for any bands that might sound like Moose
so if anyone's listening and is aware you can email me. Thank you.

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Mark C
Mar 23, 2014 4:27am

I really wish they had soldiered on. One of my all-time favorite acts. XYZ is great, but Live A Little, Love a Lot is the platinum standard: an absolutely gorgeous album.

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Alasdair Dickson
Oct 12, 2014 8:06pm

Time for a reappraisal of Pale Saints, Spoonfed Hybrid et al!
There has been an Ian Masters-shaped hole in the musical landscape for too long.

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Aug 28, 2015 7:18am

In reply to Alasdair Dickson:

Definitely! The Comforts of Madness and In Ribbons are two of my favourite albums, and is so underrated.

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