Words by Joe Gilbertson
In all fairness, following up I’ll Keep You in Mind, From Time to Time was never going to be easy. Canterbury’s Moose Blood proved themselves to be something truly special in 2014: a band that arrived almost perfectly fully-formed, armed with enough great songs to make their debut record one of the few bona fide instant classics of the ‘emo revival’. Sure, it didn’t really do anything new, but that album was so packed with energetic, fun and memorable songs overcast with a heavy atmosphere of angst and sadness and beautiful lyrics that it was the perfect realisation of the emo/pop-punk sound.
It may have be pessimistic to assume that we’d already heard the best music this band would ever produce – but the same is often true for acts that emerge with such brilliant debuts, especially in emo. After they released a lead single that sounded dangerously polished and sickly sweet with ‘Honey’, signed to Hopeless Records and revealed a tracklist of entirely one-word song titles reading like a list of Instagram tags, being a Moose Blood fan felt like watching an old friend getting overly fond of crystal meth, or anime.
Those expecting an overly polished pop punk record can rest assured, however. Moose Blood don’t show too much of a change in sound on Blush. In many places, they just sound like a band who sound a lot like Moose Blood. A lot of the time it’s hard to define exactly what’s missing: tracks like ‘Pastel’ teem with the same bright guitar parts and moody vocals as I’ll Keep You in Mind…, but despite being made of mostly the same ingredients, the record is comparatively disappointingly undercooked. All the best moments: ‘Knuckles’, ‘Sulk’ and ‘Cheek’ stand out because they manage to match the band’s own high standards, more or less. The weaker cuts – like ‘Glow’ and ‘Freckle’ – just drift by unnoticed, lacking in any real emotional weight or captivating lyrics. ‘Sway’ starts promisingly but ends up being one of the most lacklustre, mid placed plods through mediocrity the band have ever written. ‘Shimmer’ tries to take the album in a much-needed new direction, with a more ambient, post-rock atmosphere building to a what should be a huge climax, but just feels rushed, underdeveloped and lacks the emotional punch it’s clearly trying to deliver.
The lyrical content of this album is naturally more mature – moving on from the troubled young relationships and fresh grief from the loss of Eddy Brewerton’s father that dominated I’ll Keep You in Mind…. Brewerton doesn’t do a bad job of putting the issues of his married life into songs, but strangely it’s the few lines when he sounds every bit as young and vulnerable as he used to, such as “it wasn’t hard to fall for you // you had it all planned out, didn’t you?” or even the sudden rise of passion as he sings “and goddamn it’s cold” in ‘Cheek’ that cut through the most. When he re-visits the death of his father on ‘Spring’ it feels somehow clunkier and less touching when removed from the consistently fitting imagery used to marry all the songs on I’ll Keep You in Mind… together into the Moose Blood zeitgeist.
Comparing Blush to the band’s debut so much feels counterproductive, but ultimately there just isn’t enough creativity or invention happening on this LP to distance itself from the shadow of its predecessor. There’s certainly still flashes of brilliance to suggest that with a bit more time to hone their sound and find a direction that suits them well, Moose Blood could go on to have the fruitful career they deserve. But despite this, Blush just doesn’t ever manage to prove itself to be anything other than a rushed and average follow-up.