Uneasy Laughter by MoaningRelease date: March 20, 2020
Label: Sub Pop
Trends come around again, and of late, it’s post-punk that’s enjoying a revival. Creating a synth-heavy ode to the genre are Moaning of LA, California, mixing their post-punk with synth-wave and gothic gloominess on their latest album Uneasy Laughter.
The whole album is rather like a psychedelic fever dream of what 80s music sounds like to the inexperienced: atmospheric synths, jangly guitars, and bright colours everywhere. But it’s far, far more than that. Yes, there are synths and jangly guitars. But the heady atmosphere and gloomy melodies they conjure are the perfect cathartic vehicle for anxious moods and cloudy days. As a microcosm of the album as a whole, I’m going to dive into the opening track, ‘Ego.’
Vocalist Sean Solomon’s gloomy delivery is perfect for lyrics such as “It’s easier to complain/but there is beauty in the mundane… I want to be anybody but myself. I want to love anybody but myself.” His guitar-playing is also incredibly catchy, which combines with Andrew MacKelvie’s laid-back drumming to provide the perfect grounding for Pascal Stevenson’s glistening keyboards, which create a colourful atmosphere. I can feel the desire to dance move through me – and trust me when I say that’s a rare occurrence. The costume-heavy music video, the title, and the lyrics all convey a fragile, confused inner soul faced with the singular question: “Who am I?” and a bitter dissatisfaction with the answer.
Hence the narrator’s desires to be outside of themselves, to be somebody else, and to love somebody who isn’t them – all very much part of the overwhelming anxieties faced by many in my generation. But of course, we cannot be anything other than ourselves. We cannot be outside of ourselves, and we must be able to love ourselves if we are capable of loving others. Learning how to do all of this is the real difficulty and, as Solomon opines later in the song: “A part of you relates to me. Narcissism is not empathy.” That is to say, we are capable of caring about ourselves, each other, and we relate to each other on levels we don’t entirely understand. Thus, we should be careful of loving ourselves too much such that we neglect others around us. These are important lessons we should all heed, regardless of what generation we find ourselves in.
Setting ‘Ego’ aside, the whole atmosphere of the album is one of uneasy beauty side-by-side with apathetic gloom: an anxious goth in the vein of Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club, for example. It has a beauty all its own, reading like the opposite end of the spectrum from Alex Lahey’s ecstatic synth-rock. As her lyrics suggest, she might not get invited to parties anymore, but where her music shows someone revelling in the joy of a free evening, Moaning bemoan (sorry) not getting an invite at all. The two acts would actually work quite well sharing a stage. The band’s ‘80s influences are also on proud display, with loud echoes of Joy Division, The Cure, and others very clear throughout the album.
Criticisms do need to be levelled, however: Solomon’s vocals do sometimes get lost in the wall of reverb and synth, and the songs do somewhat blur into one. Apart from the main singles (the opening track, ‘Make It Stop’, and ‘Fall in Love’), none of the songs really stand out, instead blending into one synth-drenched haze. Your mileage may vary on how bad that actually is (sometimes it can be fun to lose oneself in a haze of synth and reverb), but to this reviewer, it makes for a blander album overall.
However, these two quibbles do not detract from the actual quality of the music. Solomon’s vocal delivery, moody as it can be, also demonstrates a vulnerability that gives real emotional heft to his lyrics. His guitar playing is assured and restrained, catchy without being repetitive and the loops he creates give a solid grounding for Stevenson’s soaring synths. The keyboards themselves are more prominent on Uneasy Laughter than they were on the self-titled predecessor, creating an atmosphere of beautiful gloom.
Overall, Moaning have crafted an enjoyable listen with Uneasy Laughter. It doesn’t push the envelope of post-punk very far, but fans of the genre who are enjoying its revival will definitely enjoy this album.