Great songs do two things: they grab your emotions with power and/or grace, and they grab your attention with hooks and originality. While Madison-based Above The Moon’s third EP is their best yet, they have yet to fully do either with me.
There are flashes of greatness, such as the work throughout by drummer John Gramuglia — one of Jersey’s best — especially the rolls on “San Junipero,” a makeup song with a strong, memorable chorus. And then there are the captivating tripled vocals of front woman Kate Griffin on the standout closing track, “Never Been Enough.”
Somehow, Above the Moon — also lead guitarist Shawn Murphy and bassist Chris Magin — even manage to make two other choruses work despite clichés because of clever contrast. On the opening “The Grey,” Griffin sings, “The silver lining turns to grey/No one should ever feel this way.” But it’s hard to make out the rest of what she’s saying because her vocal is so poorly mixed by producer Joe Reinhart of The Headroom in Philadelphia. The band drowns her out throughout most of the rest of the track, which is a shame because “Patterns You Create” features some of her strongest and most dynamic singing yet. Fortunately, the mix only is a problem with the first track.
The other chorus that surprisingly works is on the single and video “Fight the Sea”. “Can’t see the forest through the trees/You fight the waves, but you can’t fight the sea/Been trying to warn you, but you keep talking over me/The pieces came apart before you saw what this could be.” That “talking over me” makes up for that “forest through the trees,” especially as the band punctuates each line with a crashing rhythm, something they should do more often.
Track three, “Underneath Alice,” could have been the best of the bunch if they had punched up the bridge and the ending to increase the intensity and emotional effect, but like most Above the Moon songs, they let it go and offer another soft ending. I don’t like soft endings, especially when they have such spirited moments as Above the Moon, as well a drummer like theirs, who can punch you in the head and pierce you in the heart with inventive tastefulness. The endings of songs should be punctuated — as if to say, “We are here! Take notice! Remember us!” — unless, of course, it’s a ballad that stuns you with its beauty and grace, which none of these tracks are. They are not constructed like that, but they had the potential to be great rockers if they rocked consistently.
Even with another soft ending, “Never Been Enough” is the standout track because of the dynamic, well-layered vocals and the relatable cathartic confessions about plowing through life with much effort but little progress. The bridge of this song is fantastic with Who-like guitar bashes that build into a strong rhythmic lead by Murphy to punctuate Griffin’s rousing vocals. But then … phfft. Done! Like a bang into a whimper. What a waste of a great drummer!
No es bueno in my book. Please, Above the Moon, next time, bash me over the head. I’ll love it, as I’m sure will others.
Maybe live, they’ll do just that when they play May 15 at Van Gogh’s Ear, Union; May 18 Elks Club, Hoboken; May 22 Arlene’s Grocery, New York City; and July 6, Asbury Park Brewery.