Curtain Up, Projector On
In a city as gigantic and strange as Los Angeles, you can be sure of two things — you’ll never know everything, and you’ll always be lost. Kid Moxie’s 1888, in its own unusual way, is so L.A. that it couldn’t have come from anywhere else. It’s half catchy, retro-inspired synthpop, half daydreaming weirdness and half baroque, ambient soundscaping. Yes, it has three halves.
Elena Charbila calls her most recent work “cinematic pop,” and it’s tough to think of a better label for what she’s done here. The music is cinematic not only in its roots, but in its execution. Each track sets a scene and sweeps through it, moving between rowdy disco clubs, eerie night carnivals, and Old West homesteads. “Lacuna” opens the album on pulsing synth lines that blend Italo-disco and house elements into something Daft Punk-esque, but resists the one-trick pony syndrome that can easily infect an artist on such a path. Instead, the music goes in three different directions at once, bringing in whispered French lyrics, ceremonial chanting, and meandering piano for a classy fade-away. And that’s just the first song.
In a relatively short run, Moxie invokes a wide variety of influences. “Shadow Heart” has a distinct air of John Carpenter about it, while a pair of collaborations with Gaslamp Killer bring in a strangely surreal anti-pop feel. The title track, “1888,” opens with unstable melodies and reversed vocal tracks that morph into a strange organ grinding carousel ride. “Museum Hotel” combines an intense chamber quartet sound with a marching snare drum and an Ennio Morricone whistle. “Mysteries of Love,” one of the album’s shining moments, is a collaborative reworking of Angelo Badalamenti’s “Blue Velvet” anthem that is — and this is tough to say — nearly as beautiful as the original. The curtain comes down on “Blackberry Fields,” a kind of Celtic folk tune peeking through heavy layers of analog dust.
1888 doesn’t have any real focal point, no center around which everything revolves. Much like the city that birthed it, it’s confused, endlessly varied, and doesn’t make much sense. Kid Moxie has here a highly interesting collection of scenes tied together with a real sense of artistry. If this album is any indication of her artistic direction, it’s absolutely impossible to say where she’ll go next.