The 1976 compilation Phonography
is R. Stevie Moore’s best-known album for a reason. Contending with numerous excellent releases (Delicate Tension
, Swing and a Miss
, Glad Music
, and Clack!
, to name a few) for the top spot in his discography, this one is where Moore transmogrifies his antisocial bent and prodigious songwriting into a capital-p Package, slices of nuggets of effervescent lo-fi pop (already extant from earlier releases, 1974-6) mixed with odd musique concrète/spoken word interludes created specifically for the release. Moore’s formal decisions remain as inscrutable as ever in this case—“Explanation of Artist” is just that, except that the “artist” in question is taking a piss whilst explaining himself—but there’s an undeniably warm and welcoming vibe to Phonography
that serves to smooth some of his rougher edges.
This warmth shines through in Moore’s songwriting: as with the rest of the albums listed up there, the artist can’t quite manufacture a sense of total consistency in his process, and some songs are better than others. But boy are those good songs good
. The first thing you’ll notice about Moore is how forward-thinking his music sounds, how it prefigures Guided by Voices and Ariel Pink and The Olivia Tremor Control and any number of lo-fi pop stalwarts who came way later; the “(1976)” appended to this album’s metadata always comes as a shock to me. Dense with sonic details, reeling keyboards and slick guitar lines and solid, tasteful drum work—all performed by Moore himself, of course—Phonography
’s best tracks all benefit greatly from the artist’s rapidly-moving mind for melodies and his even quicker fingers, applying these ideas willy-nilly without detracting from the basic concept of the song. The pleasures of this tightrope act are immediately apparent; the intro “Melbourne” is a rollicking instrumental ride that shows off Moore’s prowess, with an almost baroque descending chord pattern that launches into a sweet, sweet dueling guitar line. From there, ignoring the interludes, we ride into the silly yet compelling “Goodbye Piano,” the anthemic “California Rhythm,” the gorgeous love song “I’ve Begun to Fall in Love,” an opening suite of songs that ranks among any such musical chain constructed by the countless artists who have copped Moore’s melodic feel and lo-fi bona fides in a later era.
No, the album doesn’t quite deliver on the promise of these tracks, and anyone who can get through the 4-minute fake radio monologue “The Lariat Wressed Posing Hour” without a groan or click of the skip button has more sympathy for Moore’s eccentricities than I could possibly possess. Yet even the weirdest of experiments here, a wheedling dueling-guitar (again!) rework of the theme from The Andy Griffith Show
, displays the artist’s brilliance in grabbing inspiration from just about anywhere: the bathroom, the living room TV, the inner recesses of the alienated mind. With so many excellent tunes spread across so many albums, Moore is an artist you should sit down a while with—not because his pleasures aren’t immediate, which they are, but because you’ll need time to gather up the sheer amount of melodic perspicacity the guy seems to just ooze. Phonography
is a great place to start your journey.