moe. : What Happened to the La Las

There has always been some debate in the music community about moe.’s ability to produce quality studio albums.  The fact is they’ve always been pretty good in that realm.  A few hiccups here and there, but for the most part solid.  For a group that normally receives praise for their enigmatic live performances, their recorded material sometimes gets overlooked.  Now here comes What Happened to the La Las, and this is the album fans have been clamoring for.  This collection marks a return to the band’s high energy and hard rocking edge.

Not to disrespect to their last two albums Sticks and Stones and The Conch, which were both good in their own right, but this album sounds like classic moe. … and it sounds fantastic!

A large part of the reason this project sounds so good has to be attributed to producer John Travis, who has worked with a hodgepodge of popular rock groups such as Kid Rock, Sugar Ray, and Social Distortion.  He brilliantly conjures up the big sound that a band like moe. needs.  The guitars are loud, the percussion is thick, the vocals are rich, and the elaborate rhythms displayed are reminiscent of the group’s excellent late ‘90s work.

There are some extremely well-crafted originals displayed here, beginning right away with the opening track “Bones of Lazarus”; a song summoned deep from their vast live catalog that gets a fiery studio treatment.  It immediately sets the tone for the rest of the album with stunning guitar interplay between Chuck Garvey and Al Schnier.

Their high energy rock shines with the shout-a-long rager “Haze,” the gritty pop melody “Rainshine,” and the psychedelic rocker “Puebla,”a song that begs to be jammed out for 15 minutes during their live concerts. However, the heart of this album beats in two standouts, beginning with the song “Downward Facing Dog.”   It starts off with a bit of an alt-country twinge, ala Wilco, and the southern sound of Garvey’s slide guitar grooves this one along. Just when it appears this song is nearing an end it grows some balls and transitions into a sick and swampy jam session, complete with Schnier scatting over screeching guitars.  Reaching nearly eight minutes in length, die hard “moe.rons” will certainly enjoy the large sound and deep complexity of this track.

The other is the beast known as “Paper Dragon” which sees a deceivingly lazy beginning turn into an arena rocker written by bassist Rob Derhak (whose vocals have never sounded better).  This is sure to be an album and new concert favorite.   It whiffs of Zappa with its wah-wah guitar riffs, bangin’ drums, and progressive chord changes that would’ve made Frank proud.

Not all that glitters is gold, as songs like Jim Loughlin’s instrumental piece “Chromatic Nightmare” and the bizarre Garvey tune “Suck a Lemon” don’t really fit with the style and consistency of the album.

However, they do not detract from the overall feel of Whatever Happened to the La Las, which may be the band’s best studio effort in over a decade.  There appears to be a renewed sense of playfulness in this collective.  Maybe it is a new label (Sugar Hill Records), releasing an album of new songs, or having it come out just after the start of a new year.  No matter what the reason, it’s good to see that after 22 years as a band, 10 studio albums, and countless live releases, New York’s own jam giants are still forging ahead with quality songwriting and a knack for constantly keeping listeners wanting more.

What Happened to the La Las is out now on Sugar Hill.