“Love to me was a hedonistic pleasure cruise / You should’ve seen my face when I got the news.”
The song is “Love Is Gonna Test You” off of Jordan Moser’s new album “Long Night.” You may know Moser from his association with a number of other Austin acts, whether that’s playing local shows or lending his talents to the projects of other artists, from dancing in the video for Adam Torres’ song “Juniper Arms” and creating music videos for Molly Burch, who sings on all eight tracks of “Long Night.” Having danced ballet professionally for ten years in Austin, Moser has become something of a creative polymath, alchemizing his extensive talents through various creative pursuits.
Some of Moser’s dance work is faintly reminiscent of Leif Vollebekk, another atmospheric folk singer/songwriter who incorporates movement into his work. You only have to watch Vollebekk’s video for “Elegy” to get a sense of his movement style, a highly emotional and expressive sort of tumble that, in the video, happens to lead the singer into a sunset-drenched ocean. A former ballet dancer, Moser’s approach to dance might be a little more technical than Vollebekk, but it still plays a similar function, siphoning in layers of meaning that the viewer/listener can then pick apart and stack together in new formations.
Dance videos have, as a medium, come to be quite popular with the mid-range indie crowd. Aldous Harding’s recent video for “The Barrel” made quite a splash on YouTube, and for good reason. Her idiosyncratic, crouching dance style served as a draw of its own, almost surmounting the appeal of the music. Dressed in a pilgrim outfit and phallic straw hat, she is much more mesmerizing than the song itself, a soft and reserved arrangement that becomes something quite different in the context of the video.
As bizarre as Harding’s dancing is, Moser’s is gentle and subtle. In the video for “Love is Gonna Test You,” Moser starts in a sitting position in front of a layered mirror, using his arms at first in an unabashedly interpretative way. As the song speeds up and adds rhythm and instrumentation, so does Moser increase the modes of form and function his body can find, until he is sometimes standing, sometimes lying, pushing off the wall, or tumbling back into a reclined position.
Wide open song “The Devil” draws its strength from its quirky drum beat and Moser’s subdued vocal intonation. “Celestial bodies never align like they used to / How you need ‘em to“ he sings, waxing poetic on the way that expectations never seem to quite match up with the reality. Tones of fatalism make their appearance here: “I’m full of penetrating visions / radiate forever like the first radio transmission,” sentiments that will appear later on the album on songs such as “Road to Trouble.”
Like “Love Is Gonna Test You,” “The Devil” also uses its movement to the soundtrack of Moser’s music. What begins as just Moser playing a guitar in a natural area eventually finds him dancing jaggedly in front of a setting sun and some silhouetted trees, almost as if frames of the video feed were missing and causing his motions to appear incongruous. How he achieved this effect seems secondary, though it is quite striking every time you watch the video. The effect with the sun behind him, occasionally peeking out from behind an arm or leg, is nothing short of revelatory. Vollebekk used a similar sunset scene to great effect in the video for “Elegy,” and Moser follows in his footsteps with one of the best songs on “Long Night:” “Isn’t there some kind of spell I can do?” He finds out that there isn’t, and this tension is felt all across “Long Night.”
The only fault with the album is its redundancy and resistance to taking chances sonically. But if you look at it another way, this is also its strength. It’s a remarkably tonally consistent album, the eight songs blending into each other until your attention drifts off into that spacious land between the notes. In 30 minutes of pedal steel, country licks, and smoky vocals, you have the chance to really dig into a mood, which Moser takes pains to create.
“Long Night” seems in many ways to be poised on a certain openness, balancing on a combination of spare arrangements and hushed folk sentiment that aches to be listened to in wide expanses of nature and long drives alone. It’s an album that begs you to be sleepless along with it, to stare into the dark void of the night and feel an endless emptiness reflect back inside of you. Like the landscape that Moser invokes, there are distances in the music that seem unapproachable, like a deep chasm threatening to open up and swallow us whole.
Moser’s music, more than anything, is pensive and thoughtful, the sort of music that seems a natural product of sitting on a porch and letting your thoughts drift through like the slow approach of clouds on a lazy afternoon. That’s why it’s no surprise that one of his music videos literally consists of a single shot of the sky fading into sunset light. Moser’s music is nothing if not spacious and naturalistic, patient in the lonely, forgotten ways that the earth moves. This particular video, by song’s end, finds the sky fading through infinite series of blues and oranges until the grays and blacks consume the frame.
Final song “Road to Trouble,” which features another slow burning singer Molly Burch, closes the album in just this way. By the time the sky in the video has descended into that aforementioned long night, Moser’s voice is alone in the frame. His voice, a palette of soft lows and delicate highs, has never sounded more beautiful than on this song. “Everyone’s dealing in with their own strange hand of cards / Roll on down, roll on down / Hold on to your honey and roll on down / Cause you’re on the road to trouble, anyway.”
One part country crooner duet, one part sad bastard minimalism, “Road to Trouble’ is a fitting conclusion to an album that doesn’t take many risks, but doesn’t need to, anyway. This is a faithful country/folk album sung with all the heart-worn sincerity the genre has come to lack. In a world of pop country and celebrity cowboys, “Long Night” is a quietly refreshing album that deserves your enthusiasm.