Moviola’s “Dead Knowledge” is Lucky #7
If you asked any local in Columbus, Ohio with even the slightest grasp of music who Moviola is, they would most likely respond brightly, describing the band’s career with a glow on their face, even comparing them to local legends Guided by Voices, before shifting suddenly into a look of dismay while being reminded of Moviola’s lack of success outside Ohio. Indeed, Moviola are one of those bands who have their entire state of origination behind them, even if their universal status is generally unknown. Either way, Ohio has kept the band going for six albums, with their seventh being released this year. Consisting of Jake Housh, Ted Hattemer, Greg Bonnell, and Jerry Dannemiller, Moviola appears to have their beliefs set on equal distribution. Several of the members play a variety of instruments and you are most likely to find sets of about three or four different vocalists on the album, though Jake Housh is often considered the primary vocalist. While their sound is inconsistent and often undefinable, the diversity has built them a steady local fan base who finds great joy in the four-piece’s unpredictable behavior. I would have to give them props as well, as releasing seven albums without sounding repetitive is a much more difficult feat than it sounds. They all met while students at Ohio State University, which is the location in which all four hold jobs to this day. I suppose you could call their stay at the home of the Buckeyes their only consistent aspect.
Their first release came in Frantic, an EP released in 1992 that later saw a reissue in 2000. Their first full-length, The Year You Were Born, was released in 1996, over three years after Frantic, and drew comparisons to several local bands like Robert Pollard’s Guided by Voices. The Pollard comparison came in the style of Moviola’s lo-fi approach, often incorporating distinct melodies over several aspects of alternative and country; slide guitar, endearing vocals, and slow-shifting percussion. Throughout the years, Moviola’s sound has remained largely the same with indistinguishable patterns and unpredictable structures, all while presenting entertaining forms of songwriting with different musical styles often peeking through. The majority of the albums also appear to be quite lengthy, with thirteen or fourteen tracks of longing songs being the norm. However, with such a diverse style being utilized in each song, most of the releases have never become tiring or dull. Their most exceptional release is often considered 2000’s Durable Dream, an album that was a particularly rousing presentation that rendered most of the group’s strong points with romantically symbolical lyrics and devastating instrumentation.
Their seventh release, Dead Knowledge, has a bit of an ironic name considering the band’s aged experience and knowledge regarding what it takes to produce and write an album. Really, it is far from dead at this point. This album is where Moviola begins to finally show their age, and I mean that in a complementary sense, as this is the album where the four members implement their previous successes while abandoning flaws of the past. In doing so, they have crafted an album that may even grow on me to become more likable than Durable Dream. Mainly touching on country and traditional folk tinged by electric elements, tracks like the romantically piano-based “Rudy” and the enjoyably murky “Au Revoir Blues” are both fantastic displays of diversity and stylistic comprehension. Even more ambitious tracks like the reverb on the bare gospel-laced vocal “Tears In A Jar” add a sense of fulfillment to an album that maintains recognition even with the substantial amount of diversifying factors. “Rudy” is a track that tugs at the heart a bit, relaying a tale of two lovers whose educational intelligence was irrelevant compared to their longing admiration for one another. “We’re standing outside in the pouring rain,” the band admirably lets out. “Between the two of us we’ve got about half a brain.”
“Don’t I Know” is another entertaining track, adding a saxophone, piano, electric guitar, and steady percussion to create a song that sounds both nostalgically familiar and refreshingly enlightening. Dead Knowledge closes quite fittingly with the distorted “Au Revoir Blues”, a righteous song that is touched fully by a set of vocals that are reminiscent of Willy Nelson or Harry Nilsson. “Au Revoir Blues” is preceded by the interesting “Orpheum Leitmotif”, a jam track in which a guitar presents a free-form solo over a flurry of strings. While their entire career has drawn comparisons to figures like Robert Pollard, Dylan, and Nilsson, Dead Knowledge should finally be the album that brings Moviola into a realm of their own.
- Harry Nilsson