A meandering, mystical leap
The pursuit of music, like the pursuit of any art, is an endeavor that must be steeped in passion and dedication against all odds. The smallest handful will see wild fame and success for their efforts, while a greater number will manage to build a life for themselves off of their craft. Still others will toil for years only to see success burst through when they arrive at the right place, at the right time. For Moon Bros., the stars may have aligned.
“These Stars” is the sixth recording from Chicago-based guitar player and songwriter Matt Schneider who evokes gentle folk sensibilities with a healthy dose of wondering, wandering and openness. The eight-song album is an impressive collection of realized folksy tracks suitable for campfires under the stars, sunsets in the deserts and mornings under the pines.
By the artist’s own admission in his Western Vinyl bio, the first three Moon Bros. recordings are lost to the world, while a YouTube search yields little performance footage, meaning Moon Bros. is still largely unknown to audiences at large. “These Stars” plays like a well-kept secret: shocking at first, then indulgent and mysterious and satisfying, until it makes perfect sense.
Schneider categorizes Moon Bros. as “experimental folk” per his Bandcamp page, and the moniker feels appropriate. He avoids cluttering up his songs with too much production, lyrics or structure. There’s little to distract from the strings, keeping things lo-fi and mellow across all eight tracks. You won’t find a hook-filled chorus here, but you won’t need one — not if you can appreciate a prog-influenced, expertly picked guitar solo.
As a vocalist, Schneider is meandering, sounding almost listless in his ability to let the notes rise and drawl. His voice is stylistic and his lyrics are pondering, but it’s the guitar parts that steal the show. The strongest, most memorable tracks on “These Stars” are the instrumental takes, as Moon Bros. excels in offering musical storytelling sans lyrics — take, for example, “El Conejo,” which at under three minute is a short, refreshing burst of music. Songs like these may very well soundtrack a lonesome cowboy’s trek across a cactus-laden landscape, or as he’s tying up his horse on his way into the saloon.
Plenty of lap steel, harmonica and various auxiliary has Moon Bros. evoking the likes of Calexico with a dash of the early acoustic work of M.Ward. On “Corrido,” one of the longer instrumental takes, the band slowly and deliberately builds up from a mixture of parts to a bigger and bolder sound, a song with more of that trademark Spanish-sounding guitar and a little bit of twang. The title, it’s worth noting, is the same word as a song style developed in Mexico designed to tell stories. Moon Bros. leaves this song without lyrics, and whether the reference is intentional or not, the homage is clear.
The musicians on these recordings play off each other beautifully; rounding out “These Stars” are Dan Bitney of Tortoise, Matt Lux of Iron & Wine and Sam Wagster of Cairo Gang. The work of producer and engineer Brian Sulpizio leaves the album sounding clear and unfettered, as if the listener happened upon these musicians in a low-key patio bar during an improv jam session somewhere. There’s a natural chemistry resulting in unique song structures and parts that don’t often repeat themselves. Still, the ultimate result is an easy listen, just as even an aimless walk through the woods is worth taking.
For all of Schneider’s 21st century-Chicago roots, the music on “These Stars” is firmly rooted in a sound of wider landscapes and earlier times, relying on the natural acoustics and resonance of instruments, including the voice. There’s a peaceful quality, even when the guitar parts are jaw-droppingly rapid and fluid. Moon Bros. may not be a name that many music listeners have heard of yet, but thanks to this release, many more can look forward to encountering excellent musicians with a dedication to style, performance and explorative creativity.