In the digital age of immediacy that we are now immersed in, Night Moves had the right idea about how to get people’s attention as a fledgling band. Nearly two years ago, the young Minneapolis group gave away digital copies of their just-completed debut album for free online, hoping to catch the ear of the local music scene while ultimately trying to draw more people out to their future live shows.
In addition to swelling their fan base in the Twin Cities and beyond, those early recordings also caught the rapt attention of Domino Records, who signed the band to a contract based on the strength of those soaring, retro-tinged numbers. Domino also arranged a session in L.A. with celebrated producer Thom Monahan (Beachwood Sparks, Vetiver), who helped polish up and expand upon the songs that now are featured in Night Moves’ stirring official debut album, Colored Emotions.
And thankfully, other than convincing the band to add a previously unreleased title track into the mix and changing the title of ‘Cosmic Titties’ to the far less comical ‘Family Tongues’ Monahan didn’t tinker too much with the magic found on the original digital release (which was also titled Colored Emotions), because there was no need to. These sprawling, expansive songs already had a inventive essence to them, which effortlessly draws the listener in without a needlessly repetitive chorus or blatantly catchy hook to be found. The album’s distinct charms are far more subtle than that, and a bit sneaky – like a warm breeze at the start of winter that convinces you for a moment that the warmer months are more imminent than they actually are.
The album starts with a shot, as the rollicking psych-pop of ‘Headlights’ boldly announces the band’s leisurely retro-rock appeal, with frontman John Pelant’s soaring vocals cascading over his deft guitar work. Things continue brightly on ‘Country Queen’, with multi-instrumentalist Mark Ritsema’s vibrant keys and Micky Alfano’s jaunty bassline providing the track with a distinguished pulse initially, before the song changes pace and focus for the first of many times over the course of its four fitful minutes, all the while managing to keep your attention with each dramatic left turn.
The record is a fluid, cohesive mix, as one track seamlessly blends into the next, crafting an engaging, comprehensive listen that plays out more like a riveting live set than a staid studio recording. ‘In The Rounds’ forms a smooth, dreamy bridge between ‘Country Queen’ and the atmospheric swoon of ‘Only A Child’, while the slight sonic fragments of ‘Put Out Your Shoulder’ and ‘Classical Hearts’ both serve that same purpose of introducing much more fully realised musical statements. But the fact that the band chose to include these type of detours on their debut shows that they are willing to experiment with their sound as well as stick to their original creative guns.
But it’s ultimately the broader, cinematic sweep of the more polished numbers that makes Colored Emotions memorable. ‘Family Tongues’ is a massive jam that truly takes flight, and confidently anchors the middle section of the record. The shimmering track also provides one of the rare singalong moments to be found on the album when the chorus triumphantly kicks in, and while its no longer tethered to its goofy original title, ‘Family Tongues’ still manages to retain its cosmic quality. ‘Horses’, like the inventive ‘Country Queen’ earlier, switches tempo and tone fluently, all building to a hazy, ethereal sonic release that’s suitably followed by a Pink Floyd-like coda that elegantly eases the song home.
The title track closes out the record in grand fashion, as the orchestral intro gives way to a modern disco beat, before Pelant infuses the song with some texture with his staccato guitar lines and his wistful, piercing vocals. While disparate echoes of music’s past are layered throughout Colored Emotions, there remains a distinctive contemporary style and innovation that courses through these songs, and their clarity and self-assured direction shows that the guys in Night Moves spent a long time getting these songs right. This record represents a bold, imaginative first step for a young band that seems poised to take their sound anywhere.