Upon first listening to Revise Your Maps, the second solo album from Perhapst – AKA The Decemberists’ drummer John Moen – the first thing that struck me is how truly timeless it sounds. With its almost-entirely acoustic sound and stripped-down production, this is an album that could have been released any time in the last 40 years and would sound just as good in any era.
Moen has long been regarded as the Decemberists’ secret weapon; far more than a drummer, he also possesses a fine alto-falsetto voice, as well as being able to play numerous instruments. He takes all his talents and puts them to work here. Make no mistake, Revise Your Maps is a solo album in the purest sense, virtually every voice and instrument heard was recorded by Moen personally.
In terms of style, he doesn’t stray too far from the Decemberists’ formula, plenty of laid-back folk rock and twangy guitars. It’s hard not to make comparisons to 60s and 70s folk and prog, there are hints of The Byrds, Led Zep, Yes, and numerous other bands of that ilk.
A strong country vibe flows throughout Revise Your Maps, and what’s striking is how well it all works together. From the opening track, Birds Off a Wire, it trickles soothingly, with Moen’s vocals mainly backed by acoustic guitar, drums, and the occasional harmonica. One of the highlights is Moen’s ability to harmonize with himself, showcased on the gorgeous title track.
While most of the album is fairly relaxed, he mixes it up on a couple tracks. For me, Sorrow & Shame was a standout, a rollicking pure rock & roll number with barrelhouse piano backing and a great rockabilly vibe. Ramble_Scramble is another uptempo number, again using a bright piano to great effect to accompany Moen’s voice as he bubbles about the power of love, before going into an extended harmonica section that could have come from a Paul Simon cut.
One surprise to this album is how relatively low-key the drumming is. Drummers going solo usually go pure Portnoy, but Moen shows restraint throughout. It’s clear he wants to showcase all his talents, not just his rhythmic abilities. The drums are kept exactly where they should be: backing the songs, but never interfering or overpowering them.
If there’s a flaw in Revise Your Maps, it’s one that often strikes solo projects. After 45 plus minutes of one person’s voice and nothing else, it starts feeling a little stale. The midsection of the album drags a bit, and I found myself zoning out a bit somewhere around Track 7. Another straight-up rocker like Sorrow & Shame around the two-thirds point would have done a lot to boost the energy level.
However, Moen rallies near the end, rediscovering the album’s earlier energy while saving some of the best material for last. Queen Mary introduces some electric guitar, pounding kettle drums, and flangy distorted harmonies that give it a great neo-psychedelic feel that old school Floyd fans should dig. Highlife keeps the energy going with another uptempo guitar-driven number.
By comparison, the final track, Lightlow Nightowl feels a bit too much like previous numbers. However, a slightly weak finish still doesn’t take much off this album.
If you’re a fan of The Decemberists, Revise Your Maps is a must-own. Moen is absolutely bursting with talent, and as a long-time listener of theirs, it’s wonderful to hear him truly stretch his wings and shine. Even if the album drags a bit here and there, overall it’s one of the most heartfelt efforts I’ve heard so far this year, and an easy buy for anyone who appreciates good folk rock.
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