Think “pastoral.” Admit it, you’ve got that image of some gently rolling hills covered in deep green grass under mildly cloudy English skies. Yet you’ve never been to England either, have you? How come we get this image in our heads when that word comes to mind? Furthermore, how come some music, like XTC, conjures that word and with it those images?
The moment “Just You” springs to life on Dog Eared Moonlight, with its gentle guitar, piano and simple flutes, those are the images you get – clouds drifting by, laying on the grass on a cool spring day, etc. Things I don’t recall ever doing myself, actually, now that I think about it. Sounds nice, though, doesn’t it?
“Maryfaith Autumn” evokes a kind of “quintessentially English” notion that calls to mind what XTC might sound like if Richard Thompson joined the band instead of Andy Partridge. You may be quick to pick up that XTC seems to be a big influence on this band – and that’s perfectly okay. The band happens to be signed to Partridge’s label, but don’t think that means he’s making them into XTC2 – he simply fell in love with their sound, too.
It’s not all “laying in fields watching the day go by” music, however – “Incredible Visions” recalls The La’s in their non-“There She Goes” material. You know, all those great songs 95% of the people sadly have no clue about. The Milk & Honey boys clearly have studied Lee Mavers when it comes to the upbeat stuff, effectively evoking “greasy little British barroom.”
But it’s “Absolutely Wrong” that I keep returning to again and again, straddling a line between the two sides of the band, melding their late-model XTC influences with that swanky La’s swagger for something that clutches at me and won’t let go. I suppose this one, more than any of the other more mid-tempo numbers, is the one that feels like it completely steals me away. After a few upbeat songs, it appears almost out of the blue, completely unexpected . . . kind of the way that The La’s “The She Goes” does. Simple, effective, just right. It’s a perfect piece of pop.
I just hope the band feels better about Dog Eared Moonlight than Mavers reportedly does about The La’s (so far) one and only album. Music that conjures something in the listener is special, because that’s the music that immediately and forever digs in its hooks. Bands like The Milk & Honey Band, like XTC, or The La’s, do so by transporting the listener away from everything for even just a moment – to a grassy English countryside, or a grubby imaginary pub, somewhere, anywhere, not here.