Moss are a band that hail from the Netherlands, but sing in English.
An almost androgynous blend of beautiful rock and pop, with songs that permeate with pulsating emotionality – a strong sense of being human and the bewilderment of the trials and tribulations of love and life. From anthemic choruses to more experimental sounds, Moss are a band that are getting better and better with each album.
Netherlands is not always the obvious choice for English speakers when thinking of great bands. The first time I was introduced to the band, was when I was browsing through SBS On Demand at some late hour and randomly selected a film to watch.
The film was called “Boys” (“Jongens” in Dutch) – a coming of age film that was initially made for Dutch television, about two teenage boys experiencing burgeoning sexual feelings for each other . The film was directed by Mischa Kamp and released in 2014. What stood out, was that the film was created in such a non judgemental manner, was beautifully photographed, and captured the awkwardness and emotionality of first love without any gratuitous sex scenes. Gijs Blom, an emerging international actor, providing an inspired and sensitive performance as the film’s protagonist. What added to the emotionality was a song called ‘I Apologise (Dear Simon)’ – performed by Moss. A song with the lyric “What once was real become a memory/We have to face that our love comes to an end/I truly love you when you fell on me“. A song that encapsulates the transience of life and a love that you can never get back. A perfect song for this film. I was intrigued.
After some research, I was able to find out that Moss was formed in 2003. The lead singer and songwriter, Marien Dorleijn, was in previous bands, and even won the “Grand Prix of Netherlands” in 1999 (a Dutch annual music prize). Moss’ first album The Long Way Back was released in 2007. It was an admirable debut (predominately acoustic guitar driven and a bit jangly), however, the band truly found its edge and its sound with 2009’s Never Be Scared/Don’t Be A Hero album. An album that was supposedly recorded in 11 days, but a piece of work that pumps, breathes, rocks and drips with emotion.
Never Be Scared/Don’t Be A Hero (2009)
Never Be Scared/Don’t Be A Hero is a fearless release that finds it hard to hide its contagious vitality. The album shakes with feedback, drums, loops, electric and bass guitars, and synthesisers. The album is a confident piece of work that seems to stem from a period of intense creativity. If the debut was slightly shaky, this album cemented that indie rock vibe that would form part of the band’s sound.
Never Be Scared/Don’t Be A Hero includes ‘I Apologise (Dear Simon)’, but other numerous standouts such as ‘I Like The Chemistry’ (a song with deceptively simple lyrics but hints at pure sex).
‘Angry Young Man’ an observational song reeking with jealously and compassion. The song has a memorable video, where gender roles are reversed – with a man experiencing a pregnancy and the woman none too pleased!
One of the highlight songs on the album is ‘Silent Hill’ – a song that epitomises that combination of yearning and melancholy which seem to inject into many of Dorleijn’s songs, exemplified by the lyric, “I tear a hole inside me head to let the demons go/I cut my flesh to purge the hatred from so long ago“.
An album that oozes with love, sex, regret and darkness, Never Be Scared/Don’t Be A Hero really marks the beginning of a band finding its feet, and is a recommended introduction in discovering the sounds of Moss.
The third album from Moss, Ornaments, moves further into darkness territory – both lyrically and musically. Synth sounds resonate, Dorleijn’s vocals sounding forlorn. Despite indicating that “love is a powerful thing” in ‘Tiny Love’ – the pain and aftermath of love lost clearly hurts, as elaborated on ‘Everything Died in Your Heart’.
‘Spellbound’ is a frenetic song, drums pounding with ominous sounding percussion coupled with Dorleijn’s indecision. Life get’s hard sometimes – “Will the decisions we make carry any weight?” – that is the question that is asked, skew that with mental weakness, showing that frankly, life can hurt.
Ornaments is not always an easy listen, but is reflective of the honesty of Dorleijn’s lyrics, and the almost avant-garde musical playing of the band – sounding tight, but yet so free. The theme of this album is summed up by the lyric “I’m in the darkness of my mind, where nothing seems to grow”.
We Both Know The Rest Is Noise (2014)
More rhythmic than its predecessor, We Both Know The Rest Is Noise, has Moss giving a slight nod to The Black Keys. Again lyrical content is dark “I don’t need this mess/I don’t wanna give in/You gotta break out of your shell/So where do we begin?” sings Dorleijn in ‘Today’s Gold’ – but the music is pure sunshine that tries belie the darkness of the writing. An album that seems to focus on a break-up or the slow death of a relationship.
The Black Keys comparison is clear with ‘She’s Got A Secret’, all frenetic drumming driving with high energy, with Dorleijn’s voice exasperated and verging on falsetto. A humorous song about the contagion of secrets – “She’s got a weakness, I don’t have a weakness/She told me her secret, now we’ve got a weakness” – a catchy and addictive piece of work. Don’t we all hate it when someone we love shares a secret with us, and then it also becomes our problem?
Even though darkness permeates, in winter still some sun shines, with ‘Unilove’ depicting support and love, even for a lover where the status of the relationship is not all rosy.
We Both Know The Rest Is Noise is not a pop album – it has a deepness and strong sincerity to it, where emotions are raw where the ‘slings and arrows’ of love can harm, hurt and cause weakness. An album that truly leaves a lasting impression.
Strike is the album where things get even better, and possibly the best album of the band’s career. Where the previous albums languished in darkness, Strike bucks the trend and provides some light. Lyrically this is Moss’ best effort, and musically the band sounds refreshed. Even though there is more hope on this album, there still lurks a feeling of anxiety, with Dorleijn singing the opening track ‘The Promise’, “When it feels right, you know it/I can’t never let it wait/Cause when it feels, feels right/It tends to go away‘.
The aforementioned anxiety is exceptionally clear in ‘Bored to Death’ with Dorleijn seemingly in a middle of a relationship but still imploring his lover to “I need to say it/You’re allowed to leave/Why don’t you walk away, run away?/I need to say it/You’re allowed to leave/Why don’t you make a sound?” – the anxiety and the battle of love and life – it doesn’t get any easier kiddies!
The brilliance of this album reflects the growth of Dorleijn’s writing. An adult recording that has rhythm, strong lyrics, fine playing and Dorleijn’s expressive vocals – Strike sounds more accessible than anything Moss has recorded, but still firmly planted in that indie rock sound. The last track of the album ‘My Decision’ also has Dorleijn moving away from indecisiveness and in a positive note relating that only he can make the change – “So take a step instead of waiting when everything feels complicated/Ooh your life, you are meaning to listen/Close your eyes, use intuition“.
Moss are in the process of recording their sixth album – there is no excuse for English speakers not to enjoy this band, and to delightfully divulge in discovering some truly great music. Many songwriters will pen personal lyrics, however with Dorleijn it feels so real, where you know he has truly felt all that rawness, couple that with an amazing and tight sounding band, then you have Moss.