Muzz is a trio of Interpol frontman Paul Banks, The Walkmen’s drummer Matt Barrick, and Bonny Light Horseman multi-instrumentalist Josh Kaufman. Much more than a side project, Muzz is a fully-formed group of three friends who’ve been in and out of each others’ personal and creative lives for years. The record came together gradually over a period of around five years, with no ticking studio clock or expectation of sounding like any of the groups they normally play with. Given that freedom to be whatever they wanted to be, the trio’s self-titled debut album sounds like the first airing of lost classic rock record, with a tonality redolent of tube amps and smoky studios.
The album opens with the towering, shuffling, downbeat track ‘Bad Feeling’. Carrying a resigned, haunted quality, Paul’s voice is here tenderly enveloped by the ethereal backing vocals of Annie Nero and Cassandra Jenkins. It sets a precarious tone for the record, only to open out into a wonderful saxophone - dominated conclusion courtesy of Stuart Bogie, described by Josh as the feel ing of “ a million hot air balloons going up .”
Tracks like ‘Everything Like It Used To Be’ are wistful affairs resplendent with stirring strings courtesy of Rob Moose, and guitars that feel like they were dropped in from a Sun Records recording session. The epic, widescreen ‘Red Western Sky’ features sonorous brass from The Westerlies, creat ing an air of drama and tension, while its lyric s suggest a firmness and resolution. At the other extreme, ‘Broken Tambourine’ opens up with some wandering piano motifs accompanied by birdsong, creating a reflective dimension when the track builds up and coalesces around Paul’s mournful vocal.
‘Knuckleduster’ is a fiery, rambunctious, wild track driven forward by a noisy beat from Matt Barrick, almost reaching the wayward blues of early Kings Of Leon along the way. Paul’s vocal here, as is the case on so many of the album’s songs, has a poignant sensitivity, uncertainty and fragility. Elsewhere, the standout ‘Summerlove’ has a sparse sound and warm, bossa nova lightness carrying a sense of nostalgia, like taking a loving look over your shoulder at years gone by.
It’s hard not to approach this rec ord with certain expectations of how it should or could sound given the bands that Banks, Barrick and Kaufman have played in before. Surrender those, and what you have is the first songs from a new band, delivering a bold and surprising statement of purpose and intent.
Words: Mat Smith
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