Arc Iris's Moon Saloon: Super Proggy

There was a time when throwing "everything but the kitchen sink" into a record was considered a warning sign. Something was amiss. The act was desperately searching for an identity or a sound. They were floundering. But today, as songwriting continues to recede as the basis for most popular music and beats take over as the key ingredient, records are built rather than written. And so adding ideas, often many ideas, to a recording is now a very common occurrence. The best part of this process is that if it works, music like this confounds all attempts to genre-ize it.

On Moon Saloon, Rhode Island's Arc Iris, led by singer Jocie Adams, has discarded any traces of the Americana that was present on the band’s self-titled debut. From Moon Saloon's earliest tracks, like "Kingdom Come" and "Paint with the Sun," it's clear that ambitions of all kinds have grown enormously since the first record, a product perhaps of having spent time on the road with similarly adventurous acts like Calexico. The sheer amount of textures present on Moon Saloon is wonderful, an attribute abetted by an atmospheric digital recording and a decent LP pressing. Cymbals drift in and out. Cello parts abound. Intricate backup vocal arrangements dart in and out. Steady beats undergird everything. Above it all there's Adams's voice—which swings between hovering in the upper registers, a near talking mode and an angelic little girl perkiness—holding everything together.

Another newish facet to Moon Saloon is a heightened ability to build drama into their musical explorations. A loud-soft dynamic adds a lot of force to the already soaring "Paint with the Sun." In "Saturation Brain," the abrupt tempo changes, brass parts, hand clapping, power chords and chugging strings all make for a herky-jerky tension in the song.

Super proggy in its fearless willingness to make endless exploration the object; folky in its mostly acoustic instrumentation; intellectually overstuffed with ideas from classical, jazz and even world music, this dreamy, floating art music gets better, makes more sense, every time you listen. While not every move they make works, it's interesting to hear how close they come to being too cutesy, too consciously eclectic, too everywhere and nowhere without ever crossing over into pretentious fluff. A promising new source of original music. And a next album to look forward too.