It’s easy to compare Elliot Moss to Bon Iver. He has the same melodic, multi-tracked falsetto that sounds like a half-alien, half-robotic warble. He uses keyboard, beats, and brass to whip up similar emotional whirlpools, and his subject matter is decidedly centered around heartache. But the most interesting thing to me about Moss’ debut album Highspeeds is that it’s about giving up. For Emma, Forever Ago wallowed, yearning for the past — Highspeeds is the work of someone who knows the past is long gone. The title track and album opener breathes a sigh of relief at the thought of finally quitting a race that can’t be won. On standout single “Slip,” Moss sounds like he’s assumed half a grin as he steals away, even if the question “Where’s the light I used to know?” still aches and echoes throughout the getaway. The saddest song on the album, and subsequently my favorite, is a rueful, finger-picked number called “Even Great Things.” Moss sounds more akin to early aught heartbreaker William Fitzsimmons here, stripped of bravado he can still assert the value of what both parties lose in this rift.
And as you listen to Highspeends further, the heap of influences that the 21-year-old draws from becomes more apparently varied. Throughout the record you get the sense Moss is experimenting with nightmares and fairytales, converting topics into songs at will. “Big Bad Wolf” somehow manages to avoid being a cheesy approximation of its villainous namesake and “Plastic II” sounds like a thank you card directed to Thom Yorke. “Into The Icebox (Binaural)” splits a ragtime piano with the sterile sounds of hospital intercoms, water flowing, machinery whirring. “Pattern Repeating” also incorporates stuttering, incidental noises like receipts printing, the inescapable white noises that populate post-industrialized society. Slowly, it becomes clear that even if Highspeeds initially comes off as an album about sorrows of the heart, it’s just as much concerned with post-modern malaise. But where there’s personal pain, existential anguish is never far behind. Morose and resigned, Highspeeds still twinkles with a final, hopeful number, “Best Light.” (In this way, it’s similar to the Staves’ excellent new If I Was). It’s an album full of darkness that flicks on a glowing, hopeful song as a closing act. Stream the whole thing below before next week’s release.
Highspeeds is out 4/28 via Grand Jury.