Moonsicles’ Bay of Seething is Captivatingly Weird

by Justin Finney

Moonsicles Bay of Seething

There’s a scene in the Haruki Murakami novel The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle when the protagonist descends to the bottom of a dark and abandoned empty well. What was at first an impulsive action borne of curiosity soon becomes a reoccurring act of self-imposed sensory deprivation. During one of these episodes, someone above removes the ladder and closes the lid shut. Minutes trickle into hours that bleed into days spent in total cave darkness—the only audible sound being the rush of the character’s own heartbeat throbbing in his ears.

This calming (if not a little eccentric) meditative exercise turns into a surreal and nightmarish ordeal as a prolonged series of bizarre hallucinations are unleashed and the character’s subconscious overtakes his mind. It’s a fascinating chapter in the book and a good literary allegory that illustrates what happens when the cognitive dissonance we all suppress separates from the ego.

The new Moonsicles album Bay of Seething (available on vinyl March 4th) plays like it could be a soundtrack to this allegory. The 40-minute suite-like album is a dark and hypnotic instrumental work that has a homogenous creative theme that wasn’t always consistently present on the band’s first album Creeper. Those who are looking for a tidy set of pop tunes to lodge into their brain and hit mental repeat might look elsewhere. This is an album you listen to front-to-back, not piecemeal. And like other great experimental instrumental albums that create a contemplative mood (Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew comes to mind,) Bay of Seething skillfully weaves a wordless aural story we can each carve our own meaning out of.

The members of Moonsicles come from a lineage of notable experimental Austin bands like Weird Weeds and Ichi Ni San Shi. And it is in that same aesthetic style that the band has crafted its sound. The album opens with grungy guitars that resonate harmonically over sparse drums on the song “Pacifica.” It’s the beginning of a royal procession-like musical motif that resurfaces throughout the album.  A warbled synthesizer creates a bridge to the next song “Glitter Matrix.” The guitar on this track might itself be mistaken for a synthesizer the way its distorted harmonics blend in with the other instruments.

“Hell Box” begins with water drops plip-plopping in what sounds like an echo-y cave (or well.) A sinister guitar riff reminiscent of Black Sabbath and King Crimson plays over low monstrous growls, eerie synths, and intermittent crashing drums. It’s at this point on the album that the end of the song gives us our first brief moment of total silence.

“Milk Thistle” starts with the low hum of a cello panned back and forth that sounds like a Didgeridoo. It makes for a really cool atmosphere that reminds me of portions of Peter Gabriel’s great soundtrack for The Last Temptation of Christ. If one were to assess Bay of Seething by pop or rock music standards, it would be around here that you could say all the songs begin to sound the same. But since the album does play like a classical suite (largely uninterrupted) that critique wouldn’t be applicable in this situation. It’s one continuous work of art.

The last song, “Klamath,” is by far my favorite. Sounds of metal and rubber being stretched and contorted give way to a heartbeat bass line and stabbing guitar riff that rings out in whole notes. In the background, it sounds like a haunted space ship built in the 1960’s is about to explode. Halfway through it all, the drums come thudding in again with the same processional warlike beat that portends something ominous around the corner—cymbals crash and die, crash and die, crash… And all the while the guitar continues ringing out, sounding at times like it’s resolving melodically on the “Devil’s” tritone.

There aren’t many bands in Austin—or for that matter bands anywhere—doing what Moonsicles do; namely, writing authentic and original sounding instrumental albums. Bay of Seething could easily be a film score for a dystopian sci-fi epic. But it also makes for a really captivatingly weird music listening experience that gains clarity with each new play.

Moonsicles play Hole in the Wall this Sunday, February 21st with Kingdom of Suicide Lovers and Plutonium Farmers.

Justin Finney moved from Oklahoma to Austin TX in 2004 and has never looked back. He played around Austin in the band Shortwave Party for a few years and attributes most of his social capital in this fair city to that experience.