They Watch Us From The Moon – Cosmic Chronicles, Act I: The Ascension Review

Have you ever been around someone flapping their jaw about how serious art has to be about serious things and if you don’t get it, you’re just not serious about being a serious part of the solution, you serious part of the problem? Seriously, these people are a barrel of laughs at a party. Also? They are wrong. High art versus low art, silly versus serious, artistes vs charlatans: these false dichotomies are older than the first cave person whose cave paintings at Lascaux were called ‘pedantic’ by the village buzzkill.

By the by, I certainly hope you will enjoy the excellent debut full-length album from Lawrence, Kansas’s They Watch Us from the Moon, laden with the unwieldy yet apt title, Cosmic Chronicles, Act I: The Ascension. Given my surly preamble, I can hardly attempt to tell you how serious this six-piece takes their art, but by the bountiful evidence of the album’s rich sonic tapestry, ear-wormy songwriting, and playfully straight-faced sci fi storytelling, it is clear this is much-loved, much-labored over music.

They Watch Us from the Moon plays a warm (and mercifully sludge-less) style of doom, stretched and balmily stoned but also rippled with cosmic psychedelia. Though every aspect of the band’s music and performance is finely honed, the most immediate pleasure comes from the twin lead vocals of, ahem, Luna Nemeses and Nova 1001001. Their singing is velvet-brushed, often hovering in a burnished midrange that shows off how fluidly their close harmonies blend.

Release date: May 12, 2023. Label: New Heavy Sounds
With five songs across 43 minutes, The Ascension is marked by patient grooves and spacy textures, but each song is still built around an alternately stout or strolling riff. The last several minutes of album opener “On the Fields of the Moon” settle into a psychedelic groove with samples, sound effects, synth stabs, and wordless vocals ululating, with the overall effect something like Monster Magnet via Devin Townsend’s Addicted album. “Space Angel” swings with a much bluesier cadence, landing closer to something like Witch Mountain, while the organ on “Mother of All Bastards” adds a pulpy, sinister weight. The narrative, vaguely theatrical aspect of the band’s approach is also sometimes reminiscent of Australia’s Neptune Power Federation.

“Creeper A.D.” opens up the album’s second half with a sumptuous, oceanic glide, the lead guitar soloing in elegant, laconic Floydian weightlessness. Eventually it summons a heavy, blissed-out stoner groove that feels like SubRosa sitting in for a jam with Sleep’s The Sciences. Perhaps the finest thing about this excellent album is its flexibility: you can come to it because you want doom; you can come to it because you want psychedelics; you can come to it because you want a rich atmosphere; or you can come to it because you want gorgeous vocal harmonies.

Closing track “Return to Earth” makes the best use of the full, rolling bass tone, and the band introduces even more voices to its chorus. The second half of the song takes a particularly elegiac turn with an exceptional angelic vocal harmony, a nervy, slow-motion squirm of a guitar solo, and heroically restrained drumming that kisses the outside of the beat to keep everything from accelerating even as the vocals resonate more and more gloriously. I can’t pretend to have followed the story that the band is telling here, but if there’s an Act II on the horizon, I’m already strapped in for blast-off.

Posted by Dan Obstkrieg

Happily committed to the foolish pursuit of words about sounds. Not actually a dinosaur.

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