Bay area artist Hudson Bell’s When the Sun is the Moon opens, fittingly enough, with a song titled “Slow Burn.” It washes in gradually and in an unassuming fashion, a softly picked guitar melody occasionally interrupted by tolls of distortion that portend the fully realized song to come. At the 1:49 mark of the 7:57 opener, Bell and company kick into a fuzzy overdrive that generates the necessary 1.21 gigawatts to power their time machine. Yes, by way of Bell we’ve traveled back in time to head-nodding, guitar-driven, slacker-sung ’90s indie rock. This becomes quite apparent once Bell’s vocal kicks in and the distorted lead guitar see-saws and sways and plays what it will with the anarchic abandon of early Pavement.
But this observation is by no means meant as a pejorative
Yes, the seven songs that comprise Bell’s When the Sun is the Moon don’t tread into daring new territory or find a better way to slice sliced bread. Shades of ’90s indie rock pervade its roughly 40 minutes of music; the lyrics delivered like some Malkmus/Martsch/Mangum lovechild; the heavily distorted guitars darting in like a jam between a pair of Spiral Stairs. Yet despite the familiarity, When the Sun is the Moon does not overstay its welcome. This is not an easy feat given that three of the songs stretch beyond the seven-minute mark. Bell escapes being pigeonholed as another mere throwback or nostalgia act thanks to his ability to craft a good hook and endearing song.
“Atlantis Nights,” the track that follows “Slow Burn,” picks up the pace by way of a feel-good head nodder, Bell’s layered lead and backing vocals overlapping the lyrics. Like the other comparatively short song on the album, “Seven Cities” (which kind of sounds like something that could have been on The Boo Radleys’ Everything’s Alright Forever), you’d wish the song was a little longer or would develop further, perhaps getting the pop-epic treatment like some of the other songs on the album. Taking the longest on the album as an example, “The Midnight Year” makes a drastic change from its first few minutes as a straightforward pop tune, taking a trip through a bell-and-chime soundscape, emerging at the other end as a desolate, sad-sounding guitar progression befitting the voice of Mark Kozelek.
Then again, the reason When the Sun is the Moon doesn’t feel so labored is precisely because of the two short shots between their longer, taller siblings. An album of epics and mini-epics would be a chore. And as for “Atlantis Nights” and “Seven Cities,” I suppose there’s always the repeat button.
You know, the mention of Kozelek is actually fitting since the Red House Painters frontman had a tendency to write long songs that refused to go stale regardless what the tally on the counter read. Bell seems to have that gift too and, like the songs on his album, I’d like for him to stick around longer.
Pavement – Slanted and Enchanted
Built To Spill – Keep it Like a Secret
The Shins – Oh, Inverted World