Some albums are like sleeper cells, living inconspicuously amid the general population until they’re activated by a subtle signal and gradually but seemingly suddenly burst into the open. The Velvet Underground’s moment didn’t truly arrive until the early 1980s; Big Star’s until the early 1990s. And thanks to fast-rising Los Angeles-based trio Lo Moon, now may be the time for Talk Talk’s underlauded 1986 cult classic “Colour of Spring,” which saw that formerly synth-pop outfit creating a moody, organic album loaded with atmosphere, space, texture and improvisation. It was so far musically from the band’s earlier hit singles that the album’s cover may as well have been a photo of a stereotypical record-company executive’s fake smile.
None of which is to say that Lo Moon’s fine debut isn’t original, accessible and commercially promising — in fact, it possesses a rare balance of pop-inflected songwriting and dense atmospherics that hold each other in check rather than clashing (props to producers Chris Walla and Francois Tetaz). Singer/guitarist Matt Lowell’s voice unmistakably recalls the quavering tenor of Talk Talk’s Mark Hollis and vintage elements abound — including glimpses of Cocteau Twins, Roxy Music’s “Avalon” and that electronic xylophone sound from Peter Gabriel’s 1980s albums — but there are also contemporary flashes of Radiohead, The xx and, on “This Is It,” a note that sounds almost exactly like an incoming text message.
The album has no shortage of electronics and big washes of synthesizers, but the songs’ structure is largely rock-based, with gradual buildups to big crescendos and even bigger hooks, and the band’s live shows prove that Lowell has no shortage of swagger. The group even has some rock-royalty lineage in the form of guitarist Samuel Stewart — he’s the son of Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart and Bananarama/ Shakespeare’s Sister singer Siobhan Fahey — although that wasn’t a fast track to success: A quick internet search produces a 2009 article about the then-21-year-old paying his dues on the L.A. club circuit.
“Lo Moon” mostly lives up to the buzz around the band over the past 18 months, which saw their reputation escalating rapidly via high-profile opening slots for Phoenix, The War on Drugs, Glass Animals and raved-about festival appearances (not to mention a deal with Columbia), yet they released music at a maddeningly glacial pace for these instant-gratification times. For most of last year just two songs were available; live clips were chased off of YouTube almost immediately after being posted. Loathe as we are to say so, the enforced-scarcity strategy worked.
And actually, it all plays into the contrasts that make this album and this band different and so familiar at the same time: Listen closely to “Real Love” and you’ll hear some Bon Jovi-sized hooks that even a dense thicket of synthesizers can’t hide.