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The Lead Review

Uncanny Valley: Moot! By Moin
Alec Holt , July 8th, 2021 08:52

Tomaga's Valentina Magaletti teams up with Joe Andrews and Tom Halstead to produce an album of post-rock grooves pent up with urban unease – a compelling combination, finds Alec Holt

Some music creates contradiction through juxtaposition – works discordant in their moods, sounds, and embodied perspectives resist comfortable identification. And on one view, the concretion of what were once considered contradictions into familiar motifs in their own right might be seen as the hallmark of artistic progress. Moot!, the debut full-length from Moin, a collaborative project comprising veteran percussionist Valentina Magaletti (Vanishing Twin, Tomaga, and many more) and shuddering electronic dread-merchants Raime (Joe Andrews and Tom Halstead), achieves a fresh and irresolvable indeterminacy by less customary means.

It is not immediately intuitive that an album with the aesthetic consistency which Moot! possesses should defy characterisation. One can easily observe features common to all of the eight cuts. The diligent insistence of Magaletti’s drumbeats rarely secedes, the guitar fuzz is pretty uniformly barbed in the mould of 90s post-hardcore, and the whole project is lent traction by an immutable, grooving current to which every component of the music contributes; indeed, the drum patterns sometimes feel closer to Liquid Liquid’s brand of dance-punk than anything more rock-oriented.

It’s this groove – an unorthodox, terse groove but a groove nonetheless – which in its ubiquity and its constancy, all tension and no release, is the perpetual concern of each group member. Every new phrase, fleetingly the focus of the listener’s attention on introduction, soon reveals itself to be only one of several textural strata. The effect is of a remarkably single-minded group whose finely tuned responsiveness to one another feels close to improvisation, belying the mix of live recording and studio production which went into the album.

That chemistry is best displayed on ‘Lungs’, a track which variously accumulates by repetition and subsides into singularity, its individual elements connecting in an ever-changing helical weave. ‘I Can’t Help but Melt’ exhibits the closest thing to a standard guitar ‘solo’, but even that quickly melts into the middle ground rather than delighting in histrionics. Terms like ‘melody’ feel inappropriate for anything on this album, but then purely rhythm-based descriptors would be deficient, too.

A similarly democratic approach is applied to the samples littered throughout Moot!. Some initially seize centre stage, like the deep-voiced urban desolation on opener ‘No to Gods, No to Sunsets’ (“The neighbourhood is almost empty now, and so am I”). But as the spoken fragment is repeated, it recedes into the sonic fold as one element amongst many. ‘Don’t Make Me Wait’ pivots on a vocal sample which wouldn’t be out of place on a house single – repetitious intoxication results, but here, atop bristly palm-mutes and indistinct, spectral choruses, the “wait a minute” bleeds with clammy apprehension rather than dancefloor exuberance.

Violence always feels like a latent possibility in Moin’s nervy soundscape, and that potential is realised in ‘An Utter Stink’, in which a man with mobster-like inflection bitterly envisions himself “pulling over and eating popcorn” while an unspecified person is “fucking dying, hanging from the fucking radiator”. The music on Moot! admits of myriad interpretative dimensions, but none can be confidently realised without the addition of human speech to direct us. Its indeterminacy and restrained rejection of definite emotions rules out none of the contradictions we might want to find in it. When on ‘Crappy Dreams Count’ a woman’s voice adorns middle-era Sonic Youth stylings with an account of how she was “staring into the dark water looking for reflections, kept looking for [herself] but couldn’t see anything”, her frustrated self-identification feels apt. The samples act as a surrogate vocalist, embossing the instrumentation with something closer to definite meaning, corralling more for themselves than their disembodied status as found sounds would normally allow.

For all that the marriage of spoken word and post-hardcore aesthetics recalls Slint and their many acolytes, dynamic vacillations between constriction and crescendo are wholly foreign to Moot!’s incessant mid-tempo march. Moin are dealing in median music, on occasion threatening to veer into excitable punk riffage or languish in rolls of guitar scuzz (as on pensive closer ‘It’s Never Goodbye’, its expansive chords oscillating ad infinitum) but never really deviating from their unparsable course. The band acknowledge that Moot! has a peculiar straightforwardness to it, observing, “All of this sounds very matter of fact, which is correct. It’s immediate music that isn’t pretending to be anything but.” Immediate it may be, but the effect is far from wholly conventional.

They continue: “The priority was to be direct at first and then change the edges perhaps. Make something to experience rather than something as a spectacle.” Moin are assuredly not generating any sounds you’ve never heard before, but their deployment of the material is disorienting in the extreme. Moot!’s frill-free tautness makes it anathema for casual listening, while repaying your commanded attention not with the spectacular structures of build-up, breakdown, or resolution, but with a sustained, flattening tension which would be dissatisfying were it not so completely gripping. Moin’s debut album gives few indications as to what point we should draw from it – probably we should take its titular hint and embrace the uncertainty.