Formed in 2010 and coming out of Helsinki is the Alternative Country / Roots / Psychedelic / Pop six piece known as Kings Of Moonshine. The current line-up is: Jarkko Viinamäki (vocals, banjo, guitar, Janne Mathlin (drums), Niko Aalto (bass), Janne Kasurinen (guitar), Markus Väisänen (guitar, mando guitar), Juuso Kolho (acoustic guitar, guitar), Antti Vuorenmaa (pedal steel). The debut album Brutal Display Of Love was released 2014 and this is the follow-up.
Sense Of Time has the hallmarks of a bygone era (the mid to late 70s) with the bright, sparkling twelve-string electric guitar playing over light acoustic guitars: easy melodies, undemanding in what they ask of the listener. The drums and bass fill in the languid details before the full tone vocal makes it’s presence felt. Vocal harmonies are a big thing for Kings Of Moonshine as is the occasional use of some harsher tones within the instrumentation. This brings a depth to the music which gives it more life than if it were absent – this might be an obvious statement but without this (psychedelic) harshness this album would be ‘nice’ and Middle Of The Road. The title song, Iron River, is more of a spirited and lighter affair: definitely more Country in there and when the chorus hits things get bigger. Even though it doesn’t stand out it is a part of greater work and therefore doesn’t seem like something to necessarily pass by unheard. Lay Down My Heart still has that Country twang care of the pedal steel and the big gospel style chorus it still has a Rock heart, the element of Blues stirring around in the background. The surprise comes with the solo: fuzzed up to the max and tuneful it punches through to give the song a fantastic personality along with the hook melody which determines this whole song. The Rock flavoured songs do stand out for me more than those which exclude it and a great example of this is Outcast. This has a garage Rock band vibe mixed with more than a touch of Folk lacing it in the acoustic guitar and mandolin department. It brings to mind Beck with the mixing up of styles and sounds but it isn’t as extreme although it is definitely sing-a-long and foot stompin’. Following this and increasing the psychedelia is Foolish Of Them All (can’t get my head around the idea of Psychedelic Country) with its stuttering and grinding electric, the totally over-driven crusty solo and the sweet tones of the pedal steel and banjo. It makes for an odd combination that does coalesce into a meaningful whole which retains its integrity throughout no matter how strange it gets and the fact of a standard song progression helps providing a directness for the idea. It all goes a bit normal after that to the point that How Long Is Forever (This Time) sounds out of place – it really is nice. There is a feeling that this is just there as a way to find airplay on stations which are more conservative but has the effect of cleaving the album in two. I cannot fathom the purpose of this tune flanked, as it is, by two songs which seem directly opposed to it musically. However, this is a digital only album so therefore skipping this one tune isn’t a problem.
You’re So Quiet Now adds to the Psych Pop some classic Funk tones and bubbling synth squelches. Syncopated rhythms run through this song giving a feel of an influence by The Beatles as well as a touch of shifting layers providing an Art Pop sense. This is possibly the darkest of the songs appearing on the album but it manages to engage with all the possibilities which have been brought together. Then Stars is up next and the personality of the album changes toward something like The Byrds or Moody Blues: another startling song because it just takes you along with it. The soft guitar sounds paired with an up-tempo attitude alongside the sparkling production contribute to provide a song which is undeniably listenable. The mix of instrumentation creates a pageant of aural delight to what should have been a tired out approach. The penultimate song Don’t Go To Town brings back the mixture of Blues and Country in a weird syncopated marriage. While the verse has the epileptic stabs of guitar, drums and bass for the acoustic guitar to mark out the melody for the vocal to sit on top the chorus brings things into a focussed whole. A ramshackle mess that pulls itself together occasionally but still with a purpose throughout its almost three minutes of existence. And now the crowning finale which just sets this as a group who can achieve greatness and will deserve it. Until Everything Is Gone: a mournful and beautifully simple song. An ethereal melody drifting through space, the vocals quiet and calm: a remembrance of a life lived and what happens when it finishes. This really sounds like a finale: the drawing down of a curtain but still with the need to listen to the contemplative movement of the music. The quietest song on this album turns out to be the most powerful but still highlights the qualities that make Kings Of Moonshine more than how they describe themselves. A greater journey could not be had from any other group no matter how closely compared to these six European Alternative Country Rockers.
It all harks back to a romantic notion of Rock and Pop from the late 60s to the late 70s: Eagles, Neil Young, Allman Brothers and The Beatles but also more recent groups like The Foo Fighters. Although, the structure of the songs isn’t anything special the way that most of them have arrangements which draw you in is: not one section is spared the process of of being brought to life; nowhere in the ten tunes does it become cluttered either. The style is definitely in homage of the West Coast American music scene from the late 70s but it manages to sound fresh and this is down to the possible fact that music from the era and genre hasn’t been trending for a while but the way Kings Of Moonshine play it this particular general sound / approach has a wonderful allure. The musicianship is outstanding and perfect to a ‘T’ and this also makes you want to listen as it imbibes the album with a ‘realness’ this sort of music may be lacking sometimes. Jarkko Viinamäki‘s vocals are a solid thread running the entire duration of this album and provides a personable character on top of the immaculately performed music. This album and group will appeal to those who are less inclined towards the heavier music featured in Invicta but has an amazing appeal if you take a chance and dive in even if not every track will seem inspired.
Not what you would expect but this six-piece from Helsinki are breathing new life into something that needs it and have created an awesome album which has wide appeal for those willing to take a chance