We gotta keep pushing, gotta keep pushing through. It’s gotta mean something to you.
Occupying the fertile ground between organic band land and an all-electronic production project, Bob Moses draw on the two poles to vividly resonate across both. A duo with an individual name, Tom Howie and Jimmy Vallance’s musical endeavor plays with this kind of duality all over their debut album Days Gone By.
“We were never happy just making music on guitars,” says Tom Howie of the organic-electronic sound of Bob Moses, the Brooklyn-by-way-of-Canada duo he formed with partner Jimmy Vallance. “Our live show combines what a DJ does with a rock band,” Vallance adds. “Everything flows together in a continuous mix for the dancefloor, but it’s all our own original music, with live vocals and guitar. Then again, we came out of a scene that was trying to change what dance music is – that pushed beyond the expected sonic spectrum.”
Initially connecting in high school back in Vancouver, the two went their separate ways – Howie to Boston’s Berklee College Of Music, Vallance to the commercial dance charts producing big room floor fillers. After moving to New York City separately only to serendipitously bump into each other in a carpark and discover that they each had studios across the street from each other in Red Hook, the call was made to get together to try and jam something out. “We booked a couple days to write at my studio for fun, and by the end of the week, I told Tom, ‘Come live at my place and let’s do this every day’”, Vallance recalls. It made sense that the name of their project paid tribute to the city in which it was birthed, and so in homage to Robert Moses, the urban planner behind iconic New York landmarks like Shea Stadium and the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, Bob Moses was anointed.
Invigorated by the now legendary scene that surrounded the illegal underground warehouse parties that were going down in New York championing a new wave of house and techno crews (including those connected to the Marcy Hotel and Resolute), Howie and Vallance were encouraged to dive in deep following a performance with Francis Harris’ Frank & Tony project in 2012, for which they’d been ghostwriting hooks. “We didn’t think much of it until we played Marcy with Frank & Tony in 2012,” Howie recalls. “Tom sang live to the tracks we’d written, and people went insane! We’d never expected that reaction, which made us think we were on to something,” Vallance says. “We woke up the next day thinking ‘We have to become our own act.’ We came up with the songs for our first EP, Hands to Hold, and Francis agreed to put it out.”
While their introduction to dance music may have come in the genre’s traditionally communal setting, it’s Days Gone By’s potency in solitude that marks it out as a debut album worthy of deeper scrutiny. A sound palette that combines the elegantly icy with an indelibly human touch, its Cologne techno rhythms in the bottom, the elegant otherly distance of Detroit in the middle, and an unmistakably earthly, almost jazzy textures in the top end, anchored by Howie’s softly suggestive voice that doesn’t dominate, but instead plays out as another instrument in an alluring mix.
Alternating between brooding dancefloor burners and moments of reflective, downbeat repose, Days Gone By is a record that’s not in a rush to get to its destination, preferring to subtly, slowly seduce rather than sway and swagger into submission, weaving a rich spectrum of sensation over the course of its twelve tracks.
The opening track Like It Or Not perfectly exemplifies the Bob Moses approach. A stark introduction of piano and voice departs into a propulsive, off-kilter house rhythm, before breaking right back down and riding out on a heady conclusion of vocal harmony, before the first single,Talk, spins a deceptively catchy vocal melody over jacking bass and foreboding ambience. Slinky, sinewy and imperceptibly catchy, Too Much is a grower in the shape of a guitar-led deep house Trojan horse. Tearing Me Up resurrects the oft-overlooked schaffel rhythm to deadly effect, a slow-burning, gyrating epic of tortured love that simmers without ever boiling over, while the title track unfolds in waves of repetition over almost seven hypnotic minutes, a melancholy slice of cathartic release and a worthy album centerpiece. Gentle rhodes chords and a loping heartbeat drum pattern marks Writing On The Wall as one of the record’s more vulnerable intermissions, and Here We Are closes out proceedings with a lush, melancholy acoustic guitar-led lament, a touching glance in the rearview.
The balance of man and machine is a delicate dance that Bob Moses have realised with their debut, and Days Gone By is a dazzling exploration of discreet, personal moods that engages and eventually engulfs, tastefully coalescing dance music’s giddy rush with more timeless, introspective song craft. Borrowing from both but slaves to neither, as a result the record is equally effective headphone listening as it is deft club euphoria. Days Gone By reveals Bob Moses as masters of their art.