Back in the golden age of rock ‘n’ roll, bands would tack on a frontman’s name after they found success. The Crickets became Buddy Holly and The Crickets. The Supremes became Diana Ross and The Supremes. The Time is immortally branded Morris Day and The Time. The Stooges? Iggy & The Stooges. The Pussycats became Josie & The Pussycats (and, eventually, The Pussycat Dolls). The Moonhearts have reversed that tide, changing from Charlie & The Moonhearts to, simply, The Moonhearts. But don’t worry, Charlie: Even though you’re the drummer and you don’t get to be in the name anymore, we still love you. Hell, we’d still love Dave Clark if The Dave Clark Five was called The Five.
The California surf garage trio of drummer Charlie Mootheart (Moonheart?), vocalist/bassist Mikal Cronin, and guitarist Roland Cosio are in amazing form on their debut full-length. The Moonhearts is chock full of garage bashers. The distortion is up; the music is fast. But The Moonhearts aren’t just making forgettable song after song of loud, fast rock stompers. They take the time to master what their friend Ty Segall did on his latest record: the balance of sweet and sour. “Shine” actually starts out as an acoustic singer/songwriter duet, and it sticks with those Everly Brothers harmonies when they bring in the drums and electric guitars. It’s a similar idea to what Segall did with his latest single “Caesar” and what Thee Oh Sees did on Thee Hounds of Foggy Notion. Those California boys really know how to mix some austere pop into their rock ‘n’ roll repertoire.
And don’t forget the “surf” part of “surf garage”. In the awesomely titled “Deathstar Pt. 1”, they roll out a straight ahead Dick Dale or The Ventures instrumental jam that’s slathered in reverb. It’s got the joy of a beach party and the menace of a knife fight at said beach party. It then devolves into “Deathstar Pt. 2”, which takes the same feel as the first part’s surf jam, adds some strange interference, and throws in some indecipherable pop vocals.
The one disappointment on the album is the re-recording of “Love Is Gone”, which they recorded as a B-side for a 7″ on Trouble In Mind Records. The Trouble In Mind version is a fast, unstoppable powerhouse of a rocker. Here, they slow it down to what feels like, in comparison to the original, a crawl — and add a brief organ line. Now maybe it’s better to hear the LP version without knowledge of the original, since really, it rides a cool, paced boogie, but honestly, I would’ve loved to just hear the 7″ B-side again. That thing is car chase getaway music. What “Love Is Gone” lacks in speed, bratty punk basher “Eat My Shorts” makes up for it tenfold.
It says a lot about a band when the main complaint of their debut album is “this song should be faster.” It’s rock ‘n’ roll. There are tinges of punk, definitely some surf influence in there, some softer singer/songwriter elements, and the whole thing clocks in under 30 minutes. Plus any album that contains the spoken word line, “Alright, let’s go get a pizza,” is definitely a (totally tubular) rock ‘n’ roll record at its core. The Moonhearts is some damn fine rock ‘n’ roll, at that. Charlie & The Moonhearts, Moonhearts, Charlie’s Boys, it doesn’t matter what they call themselves as long as they keep making albums this solid.