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First Listen: Moon Hooch, 'This Is Cave Music'

Moon Hooch's new album, <em>This Is Cave Music</em>, comes out Sept. 16.
Shervin Lainez
Courtesy of the artist
Moon Hooch's new album, This Is Cave Music, comes out Sept. 16.

A trio composed of two horn players and a drummer, Moon Hooch got its start instigating impromptu dance parties in New York subway stations. There was no stage, just a banner hung over the platform. The saxophones blared straight into the faces of adoring fans and shocked strangers alike, as drums crashed off the concrete and passersby tried to dance without slipping off the platform. Without a moment's notice, the subway would come alive with the energy of a rave. But instead of a DJ with a laptop and booming speakers, these were three formally trained musicians playing unplugged. Last June, Moon Hooch released its self-titled debut album, which succeeded in channeling that spontaneous energy into a hypnotic, playful record that surprised at every turn.

A year later, the band returns with This Is Cave Music. Like its predecessor, it's meant for dancing, but it marks a significant change in Moon Hooch's sound: Alongside the horns and spastic drums, it incorporates synthesizers, vocals, and the nuances of post-production software into the mix. While Moon Hooch thrived on virtuoso skill, This Is Cave Music favors restraint and attention to detail. It's the sound of a band that's left Cirque du Soleil to join the ballet.

This Is Cave Music starts not far from where its predecessor left off: "No. 6" is as unhinged as anything the trio has recorded; over an irresistible beat, the horns sync up with each other before shooting off to cacophonous peaks and pulsating bass figures. Then "Mountain Song" pulls listeners out of the chaos of the city street and into the cool of a nightclub. Mike Wilbur, typically on tenor saxophone, takes lead vocals, his even voice sliding over the synthesizers as if it were on skates.

Slinky synth-pop sounds permeate much of This Is Cave Music. "Rainy Day" perfectly evokes the blurriness of raindrops on a steamed windowpane with its dubby bass and far-off vocals. In "St. Louis," Wilbur coos, "You don't need anything but love" over saxophone riffs and plinky keyboards, while the drums in "Milk And Waffles" are polished to the point of sounding machine-made.

Still, Moon Hooch's players never try to hide their remarkable abilities: "5-Sax Piece" is a full-on freak-out of syncopated horns that shriek like wounded beasts, while "Bari 3" opens with a hook sinister enough to function as Darth Vader's entrance music, set over a hip-hop beat. James Muschler still wallops his drum kit like Deerhoof's jazz-trained resident maniac Greg Saunier, albeit from behind a layer of gloss.

In a 2005 interview with Charlie Rose, Jack White stressed the importance of limiting the instruments and tools at his disposal: "I think there is more creativity when there is less opportunity," he said. On This Is Cave Music, Moon Hooch takes the opposite approach, pulling itself out of its comfort zone by exploring new sounds and recording methods. This Is Cave Music is a quest to maintain exuberance while sacrificing some of the band's rawness. No matter where that takes it, whether by the subway or the stage, the band will keep the party going.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Max Savage Levenson