Sprightly Moans is a garage rock band that I am not ashamed to say I have some affection for. Part of it is the lo-fi feel of the music, something that has interested me since my early teens listening to black metal musicians like Burzum and Satyricon. Another part is likely related to the nice personalities that compose this two man project, to the extent that I even worked up an interview in the past with the band to showcase a little more about them after reviewing their previous release Demos II. While I enjoyed that record, it was filled with blemishes and truly imperfect. Not something necessarily undesirable for the genre, which heavily utilizes acoustic space (even poor acoustic space) and maintains a lo-fi sonic aesthetic. On Demos III, I can without a doubt note that the music of Sprightly Moans has grown significantly in substance and listenability. It is far more accessible, well, as accessible as overdriven and particularly crunchy guitars can be.
Early on in the 3 tracks that comprise Demos III I thought to myself, "This is going to be more of the same" in reference to the previous record. I was caught of guard then when the production values seemingly switched initially in subtle ways, allowing for the vocals to cut through the mix far easier, and the overall sound to be far more accessible. It is somewhat difficult to describe, but one can look at the opening track "Blushes All Around" and note the punk rock/thrash metal styled power chords with that excessively crunchy guitar tone as fairly irritating, yet the track evolves by around the 1 minute mark wherein some lead guitar licks are introduced into the mix and the enter soundscape seems to become easier on the ears. This sensation is maintained throughout the record, and is encapsulated in the beautiful final track "Love Is Nothing Without Eternity" which almost sheds the garage rock mentality altogether in exchange for some lo-fi folk. It's truly new for the band, and personally excites me because of how good the track was.
Emotion is one of the prevalent qualities on Demos III as far as I am concerned. I know this is a fairly cliche or useless descriptor, but hear me out. While so much garage rock, punk rock, black metal, and other lo-fidelity forms of music are intrinsically emotional in one way or another, it often feels like a facade. So many modern punk bands with their pseudo-anarchistic mannerisms, roaring guitars, and deafening vocalists belting into a microphone feel empty to me. Granted, this is not every act in the genre, but it seems like the music is manufactured for the purpose of sales. As such, emotions are present but empty, used simply to lure people already in an emotional state of mind. Lyrical topics are followed quickly, with so many artists hitting on contrived and stale topics, such as governmental oppression. Sprightly Moans manages to surpass my emotional expectations with unique lyrical topics, often bordering on beautiful poetry (and sometimes surpassing the borderline) and a fairly interesting manner of expressing these thematic concepts musically under the guise of lo-fi garage rock.
Indeed, the lyrics on the whole are a point well worth noting. With each track lending some sort of evocative phrasing or idea. Additionally, the ability of the lyric producer to begin by examining a topic so worn out, then throw in his own existential perspective. I can not get "Love Is Nothing Without Eternity" out of mind, not only because of it's hauntingly simply melody, but because of the words sung throughout. They are catchy because they rely heavily on elements of folk and contemporary pop music, almost bordering on a religious tune by the likes of Michael W. Smith at moments, and it leads to an extraordinary output with the focal point being love, death, some sense of existential longing, crossing the border where nihilism (and a generalized disattachment to the physical universe) meets a longing for life.
While this latest release by Sprightly Moans far surpasses their previous effort on Demos II, it is not blemish free. Again, it is all a matter of perspective when it comes to judging music and lending a critique to it. With music of this nature, I am mindful of the reality that words and phrases like "raw sounding" and "abrasive" can appear to some readers as excellent traits for music to have; while others will no doubt see those words, hear the music, and quickly dismiss it. So, indeed, my main issues do not lie in the production value. A defining characteristic of SM is crunchy overdriven guitars, a fairly raw production that is a bit rough around the edges, etc. There is no escaping this reality.
However, some elements feel a bit lacking on the compositional end of things. While I can virtually worship the final track on this album for it's simplicity and just how memorable it is, the louder tracks are pretty dependent on this simplistic guitar rhythmic structure. Occasional leads bleed into the mix, but if we're honest it is rhythm heavy to an extreme. One thing that could make this work better for me would be to aim for a "wall of sound" atmosphere, sort of like what is seen on an array of funeral doom and modern black metal records. Wolves in the Throne Room has this down to a science on releases like Black Cascade and Two Hunters, and a thing or two could be learned going into the future of Sprightly Moans. Alternatively, fleshing out the compositions with more leads, maybe even more textures from a synth or some other instrument as is seemingly introduced at the very end of "I Wanna Be Afraid." On one hand, I am all for minimalism in music, but on the other I am biased towards texture as a way of setting atmosphere and helping artists set themselves apart from other acts in a genre already trodden into the ground.
At the end of the day, I am satisfied to listen to Demos III. I am impressed by the improvement over the previous, already solid, release. At moments, it is overindulgent, but fundamentally feels genuine. The lyrical content is beautiful and poetic; instantly memorable in my mind. If you are a fan of garage rock or other lo-fi musical styles, you will undoubtedly find something to enjoy in Sprightly Moans.