Graded on a Curve:
R. Stevie Moore / Jason Falkner, Make It Be

Jason Falkner has amassed a long list of credits over the years, but he’s primarily known for membership in The Three O’Clock, Jellyfish, and The Grays, plus an extensive solo career. R. Stevie Moore? Well, he’s piled up a mountain of freaking records, though technically many are cassettes. What happens when these two team up? A mixture of experimentation, eccentricity, and pop-rock hooks for starters, or Make It Be in a nutshell; it’s out now on vinyl, compact disc, and digital through Bar/None.

On one hand, R. Stevie Moore’s decades long perseverance as a musician isn’t all that surprising; like many before and since, he was simply following in the footsteps of his father. But his dad was Bob Moore, noted sessioneer in the Nashville A-Team and co-founder of Monument Records. Contrasting wildly, Stevie can be reasonably considered the model for the oddball and untamable savants of the home recording studio.

For many, Moore the younger’s output begins with Phonography, an LP issued somewhere between 1975 and ’78, but he’d been self-releasing tapes through his R. Stevie Moore Cassette Club as far back as ’69. Heavily impacted by the Mothers of Invention and the pop-rock benchmark set by The Beatles, Moore can sometimes come off like a weirder pre-Utopian Todd Rundgren with a Zappa-esque/ Bonzo Dog-ish sense of humor.

Armed with a four-track and an unwieldy arsenal of songs, Moore can be considered a key antecedent to Mr. Robert Pollard, an artist with whom he shares numerous Anglo affinities plus an inclination for prog. This is only part of the guy’s musical gist; naturally so, as his discography now totals into the hundreds, but the above comparisons remain relevant in describing his work, particularly in relation to Make It Be.

As stated up top, Jason Falkner played in The Three O’Clock, but only on their last album Vermillion; he was also a member of Jellyfish, but only on their debut Bellybutton. Fans of The Grays (which teamed Falkner with Jon Brion, soon to become a producer extraordinaire) know they only cut one album, ’94’s Ro Sham Bo, before breaking up.

His half-dozen solo full-lengths, pair of compilations, and slew of shorter items are likely to give the impression that Falkner works better as a lone performer, a belief Make It Be happily complicates. The bigger and ultimately more fruitful outcome of this collaboration is a peanut butter and chocolate combo of Moore’s eccentricity with Falkner’s largely straightforward approach, with pop-rock as the locus; please dig that both Moore and Falkner have released Beatles covers albums.

This isn’t the first studio meeting of Falkner and Moore, with the former lending musical and production support to the latter’s collab with Ariel Pink, Ku Klux Glam. That release, along with a pair of team-ups with great American eccentric Jad Fair (of Half Japanese) and now this LP, also challenge Moore’s status as an insanely productive lone wolf. But if the strangeness is reined in, that doesn’t seem to be Falkner’s intention, and Make It Be is still an offbeat specimen.

“I H8 People” opens the disc with moderate quirkiness married to hugely hooky hard-driving power pop, the misanthropy undercut by delivery that could rock stadiums. It’s followed by “Another Day Slips Away,” a crisp serving of Falkner-sung psych-pop (think XTC) that reinforces the ensuing equality of the album. “I Love Us, We Love Me” retains the psych but rocks just a smidge harder, reminding these ears of Rundgren mingled with Britishness a la The Move.

It’s “Gower (Theme from a Scene)” that kicks the ball back into Moore’s court via interwoven keyboards, incessant rhythmic gallop, a funky bass line, and a surge of pop-prog amp action. It bleeds into “Prohibited Permissions,” a spoken passage coming off a bit like Trout Mask-era Beefheart if he was an Englishman wavering betwixt upper-crusty and working class. Next is the post-punkish hard rocking of “Stamps.” It’s in “Horror Show” that Falkner and Moore’s pop-rock inclinations merge together again with resounding success, and it’s not difficult to imagine fans of TVT-era Guided by Voices digging it.

“Guitar Interplé” and its counterpart “Guitar Interplay Dos” from deeper in the disc are buoyant, bright, and attractively meandering instrumentals that broaden the overall landscape. They contrast markedly from “Sincero Amore,” a post-Fab Four songwriting showcase that could’ve been a ’90s radio hit. Arguably the set’s biggest leftfield turn is amongst its most easily graspable, specifically “Don’t You Just Know It,” a reverent run-through (with just a touch of added zaniness) of the classic from Huey “Piano” Smith and the Clowns.

Speaking of Pollard, the first part of “If You See Kay / Run for Your Lives!” has an even more pronounced UK psych-pop feel, though it’s clearly the result of a well-controlled, veteran vision; as evidence, the second part of the song enters weirdsville as Moore expands upon the titular exclamation. It, “Prohibited Permissions” and the late in the sequence goofing around of “Album Drop” are the entries most likely to raise eyebrows in public.

“That’s Fine, What Time?” gives the Huey Smith cover a run for its money in the unexpected twist department, momentarily dishing early ’80s Euro-dance moves as the instrumental “Passed Away Today” combines a lingering distorted drone and elements of melody to rewarding effect. Between them sits the suitably collector-centric “Play Myself Some Music,” the tune reflecting the album’s ’70s-ish pop-rocking core.

Spurred on by “Album Drop,” the structurally rich but mildly off-kilter “I Am the Best for You” and the undeniably out-there “Falkner Walk” see R. Stevie Moore’s personality rising forth as the record reaches the finish. It’s a fitting, unstrained late stretch on a disc that thrives upon Jason Falkner’s focused contribution, with Make It Be likely to stand out in the oeuvres of both men.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

This entry was posted in The TVD Storefront. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.
  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text
  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text