Review & Full Album Stream: Mos Generator, Shadowlands

mos generator shadowlands

[Click play above to stream Shadowlands by Mos Generator in its entirety. Album is out May 18 on Listenable Records and available to preorder here.]

Shadowlands, as a title and with its gorgeous single-knight-holding-a-lance-aloft-at-a-giant-dragon Adam Burke cover art, make an easy read as a metaphor for depression. Indeed, Mos Generator‘s latest full-length — their seventh or eighth, depending on what you count amid their complex discography of compilations, live records, studio LPs, splits and so on — opens with its title-track and seems immediately to touch on the issue in lines like, “Stranded in dark corners/Trapped by gods of suicide,” and “These shadows grow so tall/Will I ever find my way?,” and yet it’s important to note that whatever Mos Generator and its founding guitarist, vocalist, main songwriter, recording engineer and perceived auteur “Mastered by” Tony Reed might be working through or working out in the lyrics and songwriting itself, Shadowlands remains a pointedly upbeat album.

Its title-track does likewise, with the group’s trademark ’70s-via’90s shuffle brought to bear with an easy fluidity thanks to the rhythm section of bassist Sean Booth and drummer Jono Garrett, who came aboard prior to the band’s last album, Abyssinia (review here), in plenty of time to develop tour-born power trio chemistry with Reed at the helm of the group. Shadowlands, the eight tracks of which make an readily apparent vinyl break with four on each side and each side ending with a seven-minute-and-20-someodd-seconds cut after one three-minute song and two four-and-a half-minute songs — because symmetry! because structure! — is the fourth Mos Generator long-player (their third for Listenable Records) since the band made their return with 2012’s Nomads (review here) and were picked up by Listenable for Electric Mountain Majesty (review here) two years later, and with the significant road-time they’ve put in over the better part of the last half-decade (they’re on tour with Fu Manchu as I write this; dates here), they sound incredibly tight and ready to take on the stylistic turns these songs present.

Don’t get scared, but yes, Mos Generator are branching out. Their foundation, as ever, is in unfuckwithable songcraft and airlock-style performances from ReedBooth and Garrett that are nonetheless believable as a live sound. Cuts like “The Destroyer,” the rolling ’70s nod of the penultimate “Woman Song,” the opener and “Drowning in Your Loving Cup” — let alone the infectious-as-plague insistent hook of side B opener “Gamma Hydra” — are memorable standouts as Mos Generator seem remarkably to provide each time out in abundant fashion. Abyssinia, with Reed on keys in an ending section that pushed them further into classically progressive territory than ever before, is answered in the guitar work of each side’s finale here: “Stolen Ages” and “The Wind and Gentle Dogs,” as well as the tense intricacy of the almost post-punk “The Blasting Concept,” which works into and through a linear build en route to the more fluid groove of “Woman Song.”

“Gamma Hydra,” at 3:24 with its insistent but catchy verse riff, is both the shortest track on Shadowlands and a ready standout from its surroundings, but it’s for the longer-form material that Mos Generator save truly showcasing their classic progressive side on the extended cuts. The first of them, “Stolen Ages,” begins like an Endless Boogie jam before shifting into quiet guitar noodling and reemerging with at about 2:50 with chunkier riffing, leading into the push of the verse and a chorus marked out by airy guitar notes overlaid. The standout lyric comes as “Some dreams are over,” and that last line brings side A to a finish ahead of “Gamma Hydra.”

mos generator

Likewise, closer “The Wild and Gentle Dogs” brings in acoustics at the start and shifts into a more foreboding feel thereafter on a long instrumental build rife with sonic detailing headed to the noise wash that caps the album. These songs both represent relatively new ground for Mos Generator, who over the last several years have shown a burgeoning affinity for more progressive influences. The ending section of Abyssinia certainly played to this, as did their live-recorded 2016 outing, The Firmament (review here), but even in the more straightforward material, these ideas seem more ingrained throughout Shadowlands. Once more, I’ll go back to the maddeningly catchy “Gamma Hydra” at the start of side B.

Not only are its rhythmic turns complicated and its shifting lyrical semi-repetitions a challenge all their own, but even on a conceptual level — if “Shadowlands” at the beginning of the album is depression, then surely “Gamma Hydra” is the accompanying mania. As much as Mos Generator have made their reputation on high-energy live performances and records of excellently composed, pure heavy rock and roll — which, by the way, Shadowlands still is — the band are clearly reaching for new sonic ground in this material. That they would be perhaps even more interested than ever in growth at nearly 20 years into their tenure is impressive enough — though admittedly, the Reed/Booth/Garrett incarnation of the band hasn’t been together nearly that long — but that they’d be able to bring these ideas forward without giving up the sense of groove, or the penchant for hooks, or the sheer command of their sound that they’ve been able to harness makes them all the more a special band.

From the hard-driving opening salvo of “Shadowlands,” “The Destroyer” and “Drowning in Your Loving Cup” down through the frenetic payoff of “The Wild & Gentle Dogs,” Mos Generator prove once again to be a group unto themselves in the quality of their work and the clearheadedness with which they execute their creative will. They’ve made huge strides the last several years to become  heavy-rock-household name, and they’ve been to a large degree successful through constant road-dogging and a steady string of excellent releases, but as a fan of the band and of Reed‘s work in general, it’s hard not to still think of them as being underrated and to imagine that, as they embark on these new stylistic pursuits, their not only keep their loyal listenership with them for the journey, but be able to reach outside and turn new heads as well. At least that seems to be the idea, and Shadowlands makes it sound easily possible.

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