Bikini Atoll – Moratoria

Bikini Atoll

Bikini Atoll is an approachably sinister band that aims to unsettle with a sound comprised of Sonic Youth guitar damage, deadpan melodies, and a deep, low groove. Allusions to “post-rock” also seem to be in order so okay, fine: “Post-rock.” There, let’s hear no more of it.

Some of the menacing crawl of Mogwai or Slint is certainly part of the affair though, and so are stormy ballads like those of P.J. Harvey. But Bikini Atoll’s crawl stays on the happy side of turgid, not getting bogged down in the riffing and without trying too hard for combustible drama. It also helps that the musicians have a simple sense of tune, casually applied in semi-monotone by singer Joe Gideon, letting the uncluttered layers of guitar and keyboards suggest further refinements. He does sound surprisingly like Tom Verlaine as he gets all animated over the primal thumping of “Cinnamon”’s chorus and elsewhere, but usually he’s more subdued, coolly authoritative and just a bit snotty.

In spite of this, Moratoria opens with its namesake, a portentous instrumental and a good one too. Barren yet scenic, it rumbles along over a sliding, three note bass, bookended by drizzling guitar dissonances. The spare, creepy piano helps set the mood as well, here and throughout the disc. With the instrumental parts chiseled for maximum impact and the crystalline production casting each riff in stark relief, Bikini Atoll gets a lot of mileage out of each idea. Dig the watery piano and tremeloed guitars on “Black River Falls” mimicking a slowly rising flood claiming inch after inch of your home. The highlight is an eerie series of distant, shrieking background vocals that climax before settling back down, like a victim resigning himself to his fate.

The band finds its party groove for “Cheap Trick,” with Gideon channeling Lou Reed over a simple, driving riff culminating in a triumphant guitar hook. Throughout the disc, Bikini Atoll doles out melody stingily but effectively, with the vocals complimented by sharp arrangements. The band plays with a disciplined post-punk sense of purpose, sharp steel of guitar alongside amorphous keyboard creating something both visceral and dreamlike.

But for all the dark riffing, though, it’s the subtle touches that make Moratoria successful and rewarding to close listening. Feel free to crank this up in your car and scowl along with the music as power down the highway. But remember to listen again later on with headphones cradling your cranium, and appreciate the littler things.