CD Review of The Conch by moe.

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The Conch
starstarstarno starno star Label: Fat Boy
Released: 2007
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For a lot of bands, losing a record deal is a pretty reliable gateway to breaking up, but for New York’s moe., parting ways with Epic after a pair of mid-‘90s releases was nothing more than a launchpad into a career that has seen the group evolve from a jam band with a sense of humor into prolific, category-defying alchemists whose failures are often every bit as interesting as their successes.

Somewhere between the two extremes lies The Conch, the band’s eighth studio album and first since 2003’s Wormwood. Like its predecessor, the album blends live performances with studio recordings – most obviously on “Wind It Up,” which segues into 1:09 of audience singing titled “Y Eaux Massa” – but it lacks that album’s seamlessness, along with the loopy, pop-fueled experimentation of 2001’s Dither.

What’s left, then? Well, plenty of jamming; ten of the album’s 17 tracks clock in at or above the five-minute mark, which leaves plenty of room for the band’s signature three guitarists to roam. Room for hooks, too, of course, but those are in relatively short supply. To be fair, hooks aren’t precisely what moe.’s audience is looking for, but 75 minutes can seem like an awfully long time without them; thankfully, the band puts enough of an emphasis on songwriting to save The Conch from aimless noodling.

From any aimless noodling, really, and that’s the charming paradox at the heart of the album: It smells like weed and beer, and it’s shaped like a hacky sack, but this set of songs has a solid core. The title, a reference to the talisman granting its bearer the right to speak in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, is entirely appropriate – not because any overweight kids were murdered in the making of the album, but because the songs represent an instrumental dialogue as fluid as it is orderly. It’s very impressive, really; it’s only too bad it couldn’t have been undertaken in the service of some more memorable material. It’s an enjoyable album – and doubtless even better if you’re baked – but one the band has surpassed before, and probably will again.

~Jeff Giles