The last time The Moai Broadcast was featured in the pages of UTW (check out "Both Sides of the Groove" at urbantulsa.com), the band was still in the throes of transition. Sax player Josh Coffman had only been with the group for roughly three months, adding an organic warmth to the group's sound just as it was beginning to experiment extensively in improvisational electronica.
Elements of jazz, progressive, electronic and jam rock combined to creative an undeniable funky and engaging dance-rock vibe. While it was obvious then that Moai Broadcast would prove to be a key player on the local music scene, what wasn't obvious was exactly where the band was headed.
After a nearly three-month hiatus from performing live, the band re-emerges this week with the answer, in the form of its new CD, hUMAN. All of the previously mentioned elements and influences are held within, distilled down to a more focused and concentrated form. And although Moai Broadcast, by its very premise, promises to continue to evolve, the new release surely seems indicative of the direction this band will likely continue down.
Written primarily by drummer Nick Bernson and fleshed out with the band, hUMAN is not only the band's sophomore release but also the group's first concept album. The 10-track opus delves into the human condition and provides a sonic landscape, which reflects the emotions and responses that we experience as a part of life. Once the band converged to record, however, the songs continued to evolve.
Perhaps most surprising in the latest development of the band and its sound is the addition of vocals and lyrics, courtesy of Coffman. When discussing this, Coffman said that it came as something of a surprise to himself and the band as well but as the group continued to realize its vision and cultivate its sound, it seemed like a natural and logical progression.
Although Bernson initially wrote the music without intending it to include any vocals or lyrics, he was open to the direction the band began heading in and as Coffman explained, "Where we felt it fit, we went for it."
Guided only by Bernson's outline and concept of relating to the experiences and emotions that people undergo, Coffman was given free rein to interpret that within the translation of the music template. In turn, Coffman built upon that platform as fitting, with vocals featured, either prominently or as a subtext of five of the album's 10 tracks.
In the concept and lyrical direction, the second and eighth tracks became the focus--as those are the songs with the most lyrics. As the disc opens and segues into the second track, Coffman explained that the song explores an existential dilemma.
"Basically, this person is searching for something but doesn't quite know what it is," he said. "Perhaps it's God or something else, but he's looking for something beyond the temporal plane. At the end of the day, he realizes, as the last line says, 'It's in your dance -- you'll find the divine.'"
Essentially, Coffman explained, the song takes a Zen-like approach and tone, relating that sometimes we make things more difficult than they need to be.
As the album begins to wrap up, track eight delves into second chances and finding peace and happiness. As per Coffman's explanation, it comes from the point of view of someone who's bitter and jaded and has made some poor choices but has a chance to change that.
Although the group and its members do not have a religious bend, Coffman quotes from Isaiah 55:12 in the final lines of the song with "...and the trees of the field will clap their hands."
Translating it beyond solely the biblical context, Coffman said, "In the first part, it starts out with this sad and lonely person, but in the end he finds that happiness is right before you, if you'll just reach out and grab it.
"I wanted to stay true to the concept of humans (as Berson had laid out) and relating to a lot of the things that people go through. But I like to think that life's about something bigger than just things--TV or your car or whatever. The most important thing is happiness..."
If listening to and interpreting hUMAN, that happiness is either in you or right before you if you're able and willing to acknowledge and grasp it.
Perhaps this seems like heady stuff for an experimental dance rock band, but I'd argue not. Considering The Moai Broadcast's ethereal and evolving sound and vibe, it seems more than fitting. Much like the group's music, the natural direction of this cycle tends toward finding an internal harmony and peace.
As a concept album it cycles nicely, both lyrically, as we tend to continue to experience and process similar experiences and sonically as the disc wraps by reprising the opening groove, replete with a very concise but liquid-y, Gilmore-esque guitar solo, courtesy of Cody Brewer.
Merely a year after the group's publicly appeared on the local scene, The Moai Broadcast has already proven itself an evolving creative force and has made a staggering leap forward with its sophomore effort. Saturday night, Jan. 16, the band returns to perform live with the CD release party for hUMAN at The Colony. The evening will provide a full exploration of Moai's sonic palette with nods not only to the new album and nods to the band's past work but also a glimpse into the direction the band continues to progress.
As the music continues to evolve, so does the band's performance. Not only has the group added lights and effects to make it a complete show, but the band's performance has continued to evolve as well in order to accommodate the music and its direction. Although you can expect plenty of improvisation and live playing, the group is also incorporating more samples and loops in order to recreate the textures it developed in the studio.
Never a band content to stay in one place, The Moai Broadcast might be one of our best examples of Tulsa's ever-morphing independent music scene, and hUMAN might just prove to be the perfect introduction for those who haven't caught on yet.
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