Gnarboots - Dark Moon [EP] (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


Dark Moon [EP] (2014)


What's most surprising about Gnarboots' Dark Moon EP is that it's probably their first truly honest release. Their previous releases featured songs about wetting the bed, hearing damage, and fashion, all of which seemed to be baiting a response from the audience. And, it worked. At their live shows, audiences were either enthralled by the band's utterly unique and utterly bizarre stage shows (RE: rockage) or disgusted that a band would so willingly mutilate what a live show was "supposed" to be and do it with such rarefied glee (924 Gilman). But, no matter what, the band always caused a gut level, reflexive reaction in their audience- looking outward and not letting you know what >they thought about things. Dark Moon, on the other hand, doesn't seem to asking anything of the audience. In fact, it seems for the first time, that the band is being honest about what is inside and what is inside is terrifying.

Of course, the band attempts to cloak their intentions by presenting the five tracks here as "stories", ala Billy Joel's "Scenes from an Italian restaurant," Cash's "Delia," or The Germs' "Richie Dagger's Crime." But as with all of those tunes, the masks that the artists wear is nearly identical to their own face.

Take opener, "Puppets Plus," for example. A radically different track then the band has ever released before, its seeped in a wall of sound, synth goth sound, with a distorted, ghostly backup singers, a gigantic clashing symbols, and hat sounds like water jars being pinged. The sound itself is horrifying, but when vocalist Adam Davis, wails out, "God knows what's in your heart/He's always watching," it goes to downright spine-chilling. But, not only is scary, it speaks to a fundamental truth. If you're born with certain impulses, does the mere fact that you have those impulses define your character, or is your character defined by your willingness to act or to not act on those impulses? That's a question that we've been wrestling with ever since Aristotle, and Davis doesn't answer the question directly- though, the twisted "character" of the song clearly states an answer and the answer is not a happy one. What makes it that much more unsettling is that you're not sure that the character from "Puppets Plus" is wrong.

The band continues their synth-experiments for the rest of the EP, abandoning the rock format entirely. On "End of the World," vocalist Aaron Carnes sings in a voice that is equal parts Gene Loves Jezebel and a Sunday choir. "We'll all be dead when the sun explodes," is a massively heavy statement, and even more heavy from a band that used to sing about ska, hairstyles, and Mike Park.

What makes the album so effective is that despite the end-of-world proclamations and wallowing in gloom, is that you can't say that the band is wrong. It's a cold slap in the face following silly tunes saluting Sizzler, but also a masterful step for the band to take. A band that used to revel in silliness, is now reveling in considerations of mortality, and it snaps into the catalogue perfectly. The album ends with "Dark Moon," and entirely abstract experiment that has no clear vocals and only sonic texture experiment. What does it say that following the four preceding tracks, the abstract experiment, which really by itself could be interpreted in any number of ways, generates visions of nothingness, voids, and chaos- and really, it's sort of comforting that it does?