Bark at the Moon

Young pups turn old tricks.

Though an initial buzz has been quietly building over the past several months, the track to success for Seattle's celestial-minded country crooners the Moondoggies seems to have been put on warp speed. They are now poised to vault to the top of the city's competitive heap. It's been just over a year from conception to execution, but these four 20-somethings from Everett and Bellingham are about to drop Don't Be a Stranger, a debut so immediately well-received that within 48 hours of cracking open my advance copy from Hardly Art Records, no less than half a dozen people called, e-mailed, or texted me with some variation of "Holy shit! Have you heard that Moondoggies record?" Before I even had a chance to trumpet their worth to my fellow DJs at KEXP, they were added to heavy rotation. Indeed, as soon as front man Kevin Murphy begins singing "Ain't no Lord gonna judge me now/Ain't no woman gonna put me down" on the record's opening track, it's obvious that something special is at play, especially when his bandmates chime in with the gorgeous three-part harmonies that are their calling card. Channeling the pop spirit of Big Star, the performance muscles of the Band, and the stylistic adventurousness of the Flying Burrito Brothers, the Doggies have hit upon an instantly infectious take on early-'70s country-flavored rock that deserves placement on the national radar alongside their quick-rising peers Fleet Foxes. Hyperactive superlatives aside, the truly cool thing about the Moondoggies is how deeply uncool they are. This isn't the dis that it sounds like: They are just a mellow, soft-spoken foursome, most of whom have been friends and collaborators since high school (Murphy and bassist Robert Terreberry had a Sonics- and Stooges-inspired punk band called the Familiars before forming the Moondoggies a couple of years back) and share a similar blue-collar aesthetic and a complete absence of pretense. When I corral the band on a sweltering Friday evening for cold beers and conversation, they definitely seem a bit flabbergasted by all the advance buzz. Drummer Carl Dahlen—whose lengthy, dirty-blonde waves and blue baseball shirt make him a dead ringer for a Kill 'Em All–era James Hetfield—had never even played in a band before, and Murphy himself can't even offer a cogent reason why they ended up on Sub Pop imprint Hardly Art. "I don't know what exactly happened, but when they started Hardly Art, we'd been brought up and Jonathan Poneman was asking about us. The day that we got our CD back [from producer] Erik Blood, we gave it to them. Label co-founder Nick Heliotis called me afterwards and said, "I think we have some good news for you...'" That good news meant that the recordings they'd made with Blood's help in November 2007 at Georgetown's Mysterious Red X studios will finally hit public ears this week. Blood was turned on to the Moondoggies by fellow Turn-Ons bandmate Will Hallauer, who introduced them after they opened for the Turn-Ons at a West Seattle show last year. Blood was enamored with their vintage sound, if somewhat apprehensive about their inexperience. "Yeah, I hated how young they were," he admits. "But soon it became evident to me that they, like their music, are ageless.They were far from contrived, never pretentious, and so honestly real.I just hoped that I could convey what they do live on an album, but still transport the sound to 1972." Blood deftly accomplished that mission; Don't Be a Stranger sounds like a Watergate-era recording, but has a bracing immediacy that takes up the whole room as soon as you press play. Though the producer has demonstrated a knack for capturing a band's natural sound (see his work with bands like the Lights and the Charming Snakes), he is quick to credit the easy talents of the band. "They didn't require any hand-holding in the studio. I set them up, explained the process, and they just went at it.The basic tracks were all performed live for the most part.Songs like 'Jesus on the Mainline' and 'Old Hound' were literally recorded with two mikes in the room and them crowded around a piano or guitar and singing.Yes, they're that fucking amazing." The Moondoggies celebrate the release of Don't Be a Stranger this Thursday at the Tractor Tavern; you can also catch them at Seattle Weekly's REVERBfest on October 4 in Ballard.

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