By keeping their songs concise and riffs big, moe. manage to maintain their status as solid studio band on their 10th album, What Happened to the La Las. The band’s studio albums have always held an appeal distinct from their wide-open concerts. Lately, they’ve tended to be singular, focused affairs, and this record is no exception. Over an energetic 45 minutes, the group displays a tasteful touch and straightforward approach that speaks to their considerable experience, and that experience is mostly made up of playing rollicking rock and roll.
There are few if any studio tricks on What Happened to the La Las. There’s nothing on this album that the band couldn’t pull off on stage, and many of the songs have already been tested extensively on the road over the last two years. Album opener “The Bones of Lazarus” has existed in a slightly different incarnation for over a decade, but that’s the oldest bit you’ll hear here, as the rest of the songs date to 2010 or later. Be that as it may, listeners will still get what they expect from a moe. disc: driving rock with subtle diversity, brief moments of inspired instrumental daring, loads of guitar in various formations, and a unique zest provided by percussionist Jim Loughlin’s vibraphone work.
Not every song is a keeper, but the album is buoyed by a truly strong group of songs including Al Schnier’s surging, slide guitar-ridden “Downward Facing Dog,” the dramatic and percussive “The Bones of Lazarus,” and the dynamically shifting “Haze,” all of which bear Rob Derhak’s unmistakable vocal stamp. “Puebla” has a scorcher of a guitar solo and a distinct rhythmic and melodic twinkle that is uniquely moe. Unfortunately, What Happened to the La Las lets off a bit after a strong opening. “Rainshine,” “Smoke,” and “Paper Dragon” have heavy hooks and hammering riffs, but there’s an awkward character to their construction and the lyrics aren’t the strongest. The album’s climax is markedly average, with Derhak’s forgettable “One Way Traffic” and the entirely regrettable Chuck Garvey tune “Suck a Lemon” closing out the experience. moe. mostly stays the course on What Happened to the La Las, creating yet another solid album with a few standout songs.