November 07, 2003

The Moles "On The Street"

Australia's The Moles were nothing if not weird. Richard Davies, who would shortly make an impressive baroque-pop record under the name Cardinal before setting off on his own excellent solo career, was the leader of this messy, sloppy group of Australian art-rockers. And yes, The Moles were arty. They were strange. They were weird. At times, they were utterly lovely; other times, they were--to be generous--utter crap. If you ever wondered about where bands like Olivia Tremor Control got their inspiration, then On The Street will be nothing short of a revelation.

In their lifetime, they produced a few singles, and they also produced two pretty unique albums, neither of which really sounded like each other. The first, Untune the Sky, is a weird mixture of lo-fi rock and baroque tinges, and Instinct, which was a Richard Davies solo album in all but name, was more in tune with the baroque-pop that was to come. On The Street consists of material that's all from the Untune The Sky era; it's not really a 'best-of', as much as it is a revisit to Untune the Sky. In fact, almost all of On The Street can be found on Flydaddy's reissue, which went out of print a few years ago.

The greatest caveat about On The Street is that much (if not all) of the album sound terribly, terribly dated. Their naive take on art-rock is a bit of a throwback to the days when the name Shimmy Disc actually meant something. If you're expecting the lovely pop of Davies' later records, you might be a bit disappointed. Not all of On The Street is a washout, though; "Bury Me Happy" is perhaps their greatest moment; it's a lovely, touching little lo-fi love song, full of tenderness and sincerity--much more so than contemporaries Sentridoh or Guided By Voices. Don't get me wrong; other songs such as "Lonely Hearts Get What They Deserve," "Saint Jack" and "This Is A Happy Garden" all have their charm, even if they're not things that can withstand multiple, repeat listens.

The second disc, titled Rare and Weird, lives up to its name, though it should be titled Rare and Weird and Sometimes Rather Unlistenable. These songs--a mixture of live, demo takes, alternate versions and unreleased tracks--are more for the hardcore (who?) fan. If you're a casual listener, these songs won't add anything to the first disc, other than to prove exactly how arty they were. Some of the songs do border on the unlistenable, with tape pops and hiss and such, but in one instance--the brooding, post-punk "Surf's Up,"--the poor quality actually adds a dimension to the song that couldn't have been there before.

On The Street might not be the essential document for The Moles, especially considering how nothing appears from their final album, Instinct. Why this album was neglected is a moot point; perhaps it too will see reissue soon, considering that this is the opening salvo of a full-blown Richard Davies reissue series. That said, it is still an interesting collection of songs from a band that has been neglected in being considered an influence on modern day lo-fi psych-pop.

--Joseph Kyle

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