Moxy FrÜvous are long-time MIT favorites for their unique blend of folk and rock music -- and for their status as the only Canadians wackier than Barenaked Ladies. Well, fans who are primarily attracted to the latter should probably sit down for this one: the band’s newest album, Thornhill, is by far their most serious yet. The group puts aside its political irreverence and bouncy a capella arrangement in favor of more introspective and emotional guitar-based material, and while a bit of the Moxy spirit is gone, some very well-crafted music remains.
For fans of Moxy’s upbeat standards such as “King of Spain” and “Michigan Militia,” the best bet on the disc is “Splatter Splatter,” a homage to Scream and similar teen slasher movies. This number, with its exotic guitar lines and quietly spoken vocals, is reminiscent of “Video Bargainville.” Any search beyond that for something lively is likely to come up short (with the exception of “Half As Much,” a twangy rock song with nicely layered counter-melodies). Most of the album is less Al Yankovic and more John Lennon. I defy anyone to tell me that “Sad Girl” was not written and recorded by the Beatles and disguised as a Moxy Fruvous song.
If there’s a goal the band has reached with Thornhill, it’s achieving a more conventional sound. While their earlier hits were musically creative and well-recorded, they seemed a bit oddball for radio airplay. While songs like “Independence Day” and “You Can’t Be Too Careful” aren’t exactly pop songs and aren’t at all likely to be heard on commercial radio, they wouldn’t seem entirely out of place. “I Will Hold On” is particularly enthralling and uplifting. “When She Talks” is equally touching, but significantly more formulaic.
Thornhill is the first Moxy Fruvous release not produced by the band, and it shows through the sleek mixing and tight instrumentation. However, some of the band’s laid-back personality still escapes through background conversations between tracks in the vein of Ben Folds Five’s Whatever and Ever Amen. These random breaks in professionalism make it sound like songs are being thrown together on the fly, which in turn makes their completeness seem more impressive. Moxy’s sense of humor also remains intact.
I’d like to make a particularly strong statement and claim that, for my money, Moxy Fruvous are the best live performers in the world. If you haven’t seen them, hit one of their shows (they’ll be in Boston again on November 21.) Their recorded material isn’t quite as strong, but it’s still very entertaining. If you’re looking for the goofy vibe of live Fruvous, you may be slightly disappointed with Thornhill. On the other hand, if you enjoyed the album Wood, this one should also be up your alley. In the end, if you’re willing to try a Moxy Fruvous album without a proverbial “King of Spain” number, give Thornhill a whirl. You’ll probably be happy that you did.