Formed in August 2017, Moss Jaw is an emotional four-piece with heavy indie leanings. Each member of the group plays multiple instruments and often switch between them throughout their songs; this adds a pleasing dynamism to the music and to the performance that helps to separate Moss Jaw from the standard expectations of their dominant genre. Evan Asher sticks to his drum kit; meanwhile, Kayley Kerastas is on vocals and guitar, Max Murray is on bass, keyboard, and baritone guitar, and Russ Wagner is on guitar, keyboard, and vocals.
“WSS Session”, the live recordings that Moss Jaw released in March 2018, is a trio of striking songs. Mixed by Joe Samyn and Jeremiah Ortega at Western Studio Sounds, the great quality of each track is further embellished by the members’ natural chemistry.
Throughout the session, the music is atmospheric and slow yet peppered with dissonance that feels like tempo increases. Kerastas’ voice is full; it possesses a mournful refinement that emotionally charges each song. Her vocals lead the tracks “I Said Goodbye Before You Even Left” and “Like a Bug”. Wagner’s voice, on “Bone and Fracture” delivers a droning and more forlorn aspect reminiscent of The Decemberists’ Colin Meloy circa 2006.
In “I Said Goodbye Before You Even Left”, Kerastas plays guitar as well as provides vocals, while Murray switches between baritone guitar and synth, Wagner adds electronic drum loops and samples as well as plays synth, electric organ, and guitar, and Asher plays the drums. While the lyrics of the song have a freeing quality to them, it is the drums that lead the more optimistic tones and lift the song, with a potential for melancholy, into one that rings with complacency. The emotion is more complicated than that; more like a content resignation, or however you might describe the dwindling days of getting over an ex-lover and moving on without regret.
“Like a Bug” features Asher on drums, Kerastas on guitar and vocals, Murray on bass, and Wagner on guitar and backup vocals. It is a sadly compassionate song that plays like watching a loved one suffering and recognizing that you are powerless. Poignant without being overly dramatic, the lyrics are brief and striking. The latter portion of the instrumental narrative is like trying to make that loved one smile and dance around for one minute, two, and maybe help them forget whatever oppresses them. That faithful sound is disrupted by a shivering sound; the music remains fast but changes directions as it leads the listener to lower depths. Uncertain, disturbing distortions and an almost funereal ending taper the song’s outro.
The final song is “Bone and Fracture”. Wagner is the vocalist for this song; though it is the longest, it is actually two interweaving parts, “Bone” and “Fracture”. The mood and the lyrics are consistent between the two parts. Throughout, Asher’s on drums, and Kerastas is on guitar and backing vocals. Wagner’s on vocals, during “Bone” he plays guitar and bass synth; during “Fracture” he plays guitar and vocals. Likewise, Murray’s playing baritone guitar and bass synth during “Bone” and bass guitar during “Fracture”. This makes for a multi-faceted song that surges and then ebbs again. Kerastas’ vocals haunt the background, and the crashing of Asher’s cymbals drives the song to disphony. Meanwhile, dissonance and longing are communicated through the guitar- and bass*work while astral sounds of the keyboard add a heady effect.
Throughout, the group’s refinement of emotion and mood are satisfyingly delivered. Their use of tones and their skillful approach to multi-instrumentalism vitalize Moss Jaw with an admirably novel and enjoyable identity. If three songs on bandcamp aren’t enough for you, Moss Jaw plays Saturday, September 22, at Audiotree Music Festival in Kalamazoo.
More info on set times and tickets at www.audiotreemusicfestival.com.