Moth Wranglers – Never Mind the Context

Moth Wranglers
Never Mind the Context

I’ve been looking forward to the debut full-length from Moth Wranglers for over a year since hearing their indisputably unique 7″ on Mother West Records. The project is a pairing between San Francisco resident Chris Xefos of the famed humor-punks King Missile and New Yorker LD Beghtol of Flare and guest vocalist with The Magnetic Fields. Both of these multi-instrumentalists have a love for obscure pop and even more obscure instruments, and the pairing seems made in heaven.
Joined on this album by members of Camper Van Beethovan, The Magnetic Fields, The Loud Family, The Posies, Geraldine Fibbers, and others, Xefos and Beghtol have created an album that is almost infuriatingly good. I phrase it that way because there is no particular style to Moth Wranglers. Rather, they jump from a delightlyfully dark dirge to a ridiculously poppy country song with no regard for those of us who are thrown by the transition. Each track here is vastly different, but what doesn’t vary is the perfect, lush quality of Beghtol’s vocals, the impeccable recording, and the talented instrumentation on this release.
As an example of this band’s diversity, the album starts with the a capella “I Never Will Marry,” a song that sounds like an old gospel or folk tune, and then it immediately goes into “Turnabout,” which was included on the band’s 7″. This poppy tune uses layers of back-up vocals, acoustic guitar, and fiddle, sounding like a mix between a lush pop song and a country ditty. It’s a fine, perfectly done track, and it showcases how good this project can be. “Six-Page Letter” is dark and dreary, with an ominous beat and imposing guitar, while my favorite song, “Miss Fire,” is the most wonderful folk song you can imagine. The chorus of this song is almost strikingly beautiful, and the lyrics and acoustic guitar evoke memories of Dylan at his best. The female vocals on “Counts for Nothing” give this quieter pop song a fresh feel.
The more intense “Don’t Look Now!” evokes the champerpop sensibilities of Flare with some wailing electric guitar for a most intriguing combination. Unfortunately, it’s followed by the almost unbearable “Figure-Ground,” done in the style of a bouncy German drinking song. Yipes! Still, Stephen Merritt adds his trademark deep vocals to the loungy “Let Go, Let Me,” and the accordion and guitar on “Souvenir” lend it an interesting sort of 70’s soft pop feel. The quiet urgency of “Record (She’s Saving a Page)” is emphasized by strings and taped recordings throughout, and the closer, “Over & Out,” takes on a sort of lo-fi folkiness.
It’s almost impossible not to discuss this album song by song, because it varies so, yet despite my discussion, you’re likely not prepared for Moth Wranglers. They change from a sly grin and humorous approach to the most wonderful, sincere music at the drop of a dime. And while there are a few styles that are not my favorite, they’re played with such originality that every track has its high points.