Wild Moccasins, 88 92
There’s always been an ’80s influence apparent in the Wild Moccasins’ music, it’s true. With new album 88 92, however, they’re flying their neon-colored flag proudly, even spelling it out explicitly in the album title.
There’s a serious New Wave feel to the whole thing, pointing backwards/sideways at Blondie, in particular, especially on tracks like “Sponge Won’t Soak,” which sounds like it could’ve dropped through a hole in time from 1986 or so. It’s Zahira Gutierrez’s Debbie Harry-esque delivery and fragile, gorgeous voice that does the trick for the most part, but Cody Swann’s Hall & Oates-style guitars and Andrew Lee’s rubbery, gently-yet-insistently funky basslines seal the deal.
At first listen, 88 92 comes off like the soundtrack that’s playing inside your head when you have that dream that mashes together every John Hughes movie you’ve ever seen, only with you as the main character. There’s “Open Sesames,” delicate and primary-color hazy, and the prettier, alluring “Eye Makeup,” which takes that beautiful sound and makes it even funkier in a throwback way. Even the gorgeously-layered Spanish-language track “Real” has a distinctly ’80s-pop-ish vibe, whether or not you can understand what Gutierrez is saying.
“Soft Focus,” a track that’s more driving than most of the rest of the album (relatively speaking), holds tight to a different old-school sound, with post-punk-ish guitars that dive off sideways into these beautiful, spiraling figures. “Emergency Broadcast” is in the same neighborhood, surprisingly tense and sharp-edged; it’s a little reminiscent of The Rapture (the band, not the song) at points, insistent and keening while remaining ridiculously catchy.
Lead single “Gag Reflections” is one of the definite highlights here, with a guitar melody that reminds me (in a good way, mind you) of Modern English’s “I Melt With You.” It’s a strong, forward-facing tune, one that builds and builds on itself, adding layer upon layer of intricate melody and tossing in these brilliant little moments seemingly at random.
Which brings me to a counterpoint to the above: don’t think that the Moccasins are yet another ’80s retread, mind you, because that’s not actually what they are. They’ve succeeded at grabbing hold of that sound and melding it with more modern-day pop music and indie-rock to become something all their own. In the end, they bring to mind people like Stars and The New Pornographers, both of whom have carved out a special niche of pop music that transcends its actual time to become something better, something classic.
In fact, two of the songs that stand out the most starkly are the ones that least easily fit as typical ’80s pop, and they serve to demonstrate the breadth of what this band can do. There’s quasi-title track “Eighty-Eight Ninety-Two,” which is quirky and just a little bit spooky, and where the protagonist of the song apparently meets a girl while visiting his mother(?) in a psychiatric ward. The song rides an oddly Gary Numan-ish feel, with synths and washes of darkly-realized sound floating through.
Then there’s closing tune “When I Said I Saw It Coming,” which is cool and wavery and watery, psychedelic in a low-key, mellow way. Unlike most of the rest of the album, the track is more Beatles than anything, but mid-to-late-period, more psychedelic Beatles; think “Tomorrow Never Knows” as interpreted by Wayne Coyne, maybe, and you’ll get the idea. It’s the kind of song that makes you sit up and go, “hey, wait a minute — these guys did this, too?”
See, and that’s the brilliantly devious trick this band’s pulling off here. The songs on 88 92 are pop songs, to be sure, and like the music of any band out there, Wild Moccasins’ music is definitely influenced by the music of the ’80s, but they’ve taken it and subverted it, almost using it as camouflage for what they’re really doing: crafting some astoundingly good, stick-in-your-skull songs, of any genre.