Conventional wisdom says that jam bands don’t make good studio albums. Not true for moe., amongst the old guard of this amorphously defined genre. What Happened to the La Las is their 10th studio album and continues their trend of solid studio efforts. Unlike the segues of Wormwood (2002) or the sprawling and exquisite The Conch (2007), La Las feels more like a straight-ahead rock album, fusing moe.’s extroverted but never ostentatious style: a mixture of quirky pop and prog-flavored hard rock with a more mainstream production value.
Using a new producer for the first time this century, the sound veritably pops with a certain crispness that’s refreshing in the wake of so much lo-fi in indie rock. Standard-length guitar solos stand in for extended jams, but the longest track is also perhaps the best–guitarist Al Schnier’s multi-part “Downward Facing Dog”. Starting as a Southern-tinged rocker, it seamlessly flows into a slower, powerful interlude before revving up for a final riff-based assault.
The double-guitar melodies of Schnier and Chuck Garvey, one of moe.’s signature sounds, show up on “Paper Dragon”, a song that acquires a certain heft in the studio that it sometimes lacks onstage. On “Puebla”, bassist Rob Derhak lays down a funky foundation echoed in a dark guitar/vibraphone riff under a psychedelic slide guitar. Percussionist Jim Loughlin’s “Chromatic Nightmare” is a thorny, proggy instrumental, a sort of bizarro, psychedelic waltz. Although the song has a fanciful brilliance, it breaks up the flow of meaty rock songs.
These high points far outweigh the missteps. The closing “Suck a Lemon” sounds like it followed its own directive. “The Bones of Lazarus”, a harmonic-laden, danceable fan favorite, loses its effect when restricted to four minutes, as Derhak’s vocals come in too early and the band never foments the tune’s usual slow build.
Essential Tracks: “Downward Facing Dog”, “Paper Dragon”, and “Puebla”