Review Summary: Herein lies the promise of good pop music: that something within the song has not only engaged but also rearranged for good the nodes of our pleasure receptors.
I remember my early experiences with 2009's Merriweather Post Pavilion
, my favorite album by my favorite band, very vividly. Listening to the album to this day engages an especially memory-laden sector of my brain and lets me feel and sense phenomena that would normally remain lost to time were it not for the strong association they share with melodies, songwriting, and production that I have never found less than indelible. Like The Caretaker and Marcel Proust, I feel strongly that art (and maybe in particular music) at least partially acts as a container or repository for the simultaneous (or aesthetically elicited) emotions and sensations that we can later retrieve in a more seamless way than we could without the consciousness-aiding contributions of the music. There I was, with my green iPod Mini, in bed, listening on repeat, literally dozens of times, to the harmony between Avey Tare and Panda Bear on the line “I can see you, you curl your fists and you pull your hair” at 1:25-1:35 (per Spotify) of the love song “Bluish,” experiencing the world, just feeling things with and through and beyond the music, being myself fully in silence in the dark. And there I am, still, now, to this day.
Last year, when I was watching a lot of livestream concerts to make up for the gap in live music consumption I experienced after I moved from Brooklyn in early 2020, I stumbled upon a video of a trio called Moon Kissed performing a song called “Tell U About It” in a video for a series called Tiny Dorm Sessions. The video, comprising three songs in 12 minutes, still has under 1,000 views on YouTube but is completely amazing; “Tell U About It,” in particular, runs through a panoply of bright and beautiful sonic ideas and motifs and hooks before singer Khaya, drummer Leah, and synth/electric vibraphone player Emily, looking at each other, passing tiny gestures back and forth, fuse their efforts even more emphatically for a grand climax and ride out on a sugary and virtuosic vibraphone solo. Watching that video for the first time, I found myself in that headspace I had occupied so often in 2009, familiar and strange all at once and immensely gratifying in toto.
“Tell U About It” is functionally the first full track on Moon Kissed’s 2019 debut album, I Met My Band at a New Years Party
(yes, no apostrophe in “Years”), a magnificent collection of pop gems written and produced by Khaya a few months after the band, well, y'know...Each song betrayed her efforts to give people attuned to the aesthetic wavelengths of modern pop music “that ‘Bluish’ feeling,” that sense of being totally in touch with your environment while being awestruck at the genius of the decision to fade the bass at that
moment, to place that
minor chord where it is instead of somewhere else or not at all.
Surely feeling the nobility of this goal depends greatly on feeling its success in practice, on feeling like you’re being cared for in some abstract yet fundamental way by a song. As such, on the evidence of New Years Party
and now, as of Friday October 22 2021, their second album I’d Like to Tell You Something Important
, I’m here to gleefully report that Moon Kissed are now demonstrably intent on swinging for the goddamn fences every time and they get what they and we want almost without exception. This album, just like New Years Party
, is awesome, usually brilliant and never less than wholly pleasant, with a number of aesthetic curveballs that shift our focus to unexpected elements of songcraft and production.
“Bubblegum” opens the show with a statement of girly defiance that demonstrates a whole lot of Moon Kissed’s bona fides: its cleverly varied drum sounds over thoroughly tinkered-with, analog-sounding synths, its edifying allusions to and embodiments of aesthetic norms and motifs associated with the experience of femininity, and Khaya’s elastic voice. “Twirl my hair and pop my bubblegum, that’s how I get what I want / Chew you up, you’re just like bubblegum, I’ll spit you out when I’m done!” goes that chorus, and the booming guitars and slick percussive claps indicate that wherever this sense of rebellion emerged from it has been fully transferred to and expressed through the sonic details of “Bubblegum” large and small. That these details and their organization should bring a smile to the face of any fan of modern pop music (Khaya cites Charli XCX, Chairlift, and Grimes as inspirations) is the very description and essence of Moon Kissed’s genius.
Here I must disagree with the headline of the only other review of Something Important
so far, from Variety
: this album isn’t a feminist statement dressed up as a synth-pop album. Au contraire, its constant mastery of its weave of synth-pop timbres and poppy, effervescent production is the very material through which it builds its case for a world where, as a short monologue called “I’ll Ask For It” admittedly renders more explicit, men don’t assume that a lack of rejection means women are “asking for it,” where we could all experience pain and joy with each other in a more honest, embodied way. In this world, we wouldn’t keep using each other like we do now. I remember my 8th grade English teacher, playing Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues”: “See? Don’t you get it? It makes you think, but it also makes you want to dance.” Capische?
One track on Something Important
itself is called “Dance,” and it demonstrates the variety of emotions that Khaya and the band are trying to invoke and chronicle: “Because the night is meant for dance, I put myself into a trance,” sings Khaya over guitar and crackling percussion, and we can immediately feel that, contra “Bubblegum,” the production and loopy songwriting of “Dance” bespeak introspection and quietude. Yet through its lightly-borne synthesizer flourishes and pensive melody, the song ends up being just as much a testimony as the opener to the endeavors of the band to hit the spot in a way that brooks no aesthetic dissatisfaction and ultimately encourages a new look from its listener at the world, from a vantage point perhaps stranger than before and certainly more vivid.
Even closer “Chameleon,” a piano ballad about the singer-narrator’s desire to please someone by changing herself “until I don’t know who I am,” leans fully into its concept, evincing the same attention to detail and big-picture dedication to intense feeling transmuted into musical consonance and dissonance as the rest of the album. Khaya’s lyrics and writing feel charged with a profound sadness and yet they introduce us to this emotion in a way that lightly defamiliarizes us, makes us think about it, makes us feel its sadness enough to wonder what it means to be sad. Such is the promise of good pop music: that something on whatever perceptible scale within the song has not only engaged but also rearranged for good the nodes of our pleasure receptors, that something weird but familiar too has snuck into the cracks.
The poet Louise Glück was once interviewed by one of my English professors and said, “When you make a poem, what you do is set a moment in a context, and, I guess, happiness in time is the most tragic thing there is. Its loss will be felt.” With their little poems, their shining crystals of perfect pop art, Moon Kissed bet the house that Glück is wrong, that a feeling captured is a feeling forever. Listen and you’ll feel the relationship between now and eternity as more than an abstraction. I’d Like to Tell You Something Important
finds the band that met at a New Years party launching into more and more elevated sonic stratospheres repeatedly and without issue, baring their souls in perfect harmony, creating musical magic drawn from the very materials of real feelings, and creating, in turn, new and unfamiliar and beautiful feelings within the listener that, when their time inevitably comes, will one day be recognized as magic too.