The Canadian electronic duo Bob Moses, consisting of Tom Howie and Jimmy Vallance have returned with their sophomore album Battle Lines. The pair have great different musical backgrounds that shine through; Howie has a strong rock and vocal basis, whereas Vallance has trance and electronic roots, with releases on labels such as Ultra Records. These two styles of music are blended well, and meet in the middle of rock and electronic, with choruses and drops aligning or occurring at different times as the songs progress and shift.
Opener, “Heaven Only Knows” is a beautiful paced track with a greatly dense and intricate instrumental that showcases some of the best usage of transitional elements across the whole album. After the bulk of the song subsides, it cuts away to pure vocal melodies, which remain for some time, before a cavernous synth arrangement begins building to form the backbone of the outro. The titular track, “Battle Lines” has a great piano melody that meshes with the vocals cleanly, despite the vivid background of instrumental elements that ebb and flow throughout the track.
Bob Moses’ work feels very polished and refined; although often to the point of losing a bit of the personality and texture that gives music of this style a bit more character. The guitars feel toned down at times, with no grit or bite, and are often overshadowed by the electronic elements. A greater back and forth between the two main styles would have done the talents of the pair much more justice. Despite the more emotionally mature and developed lyrics, dealing with loss and emotional dependance, they often feel like similar sentiments and ideas posed by a myriad of different artists, all with similar styles.
Despite the previous lyrical critique, their writing has improved as the duo grown more mature and allowed for introspection to a greater extent than previously. While this development is a typically common hallmark of an artist’s sophomore album, Bob Moses have dealt with their new experiences in a way that is communicated clearly and openly with fans. The variation between the instrumentally dense and scarce sections of songs accentuates this too, “Eye for an Eye” for instance, dips in intensity for an emotional vocal refrain, before allowing the violins to reach a crescendo and pick things back up. They allow their lyrics to sit at the forefront for periods of time, putting greater emphasis on vocal delivery and writing.
“Enough to Believe” is probably one of the more danceable and electronically-dominant tracks on the album, with a great pulsating bassline and some modular synth work that forms a really great melody that is allowed to breathe for minutes at a time without lyrics, allowing the instrumental to shine through. That relationship between minimalism and maximalism is at the core of my enjoyment of this album. The duo’s usage of so many instrumental elements could have led to an over-packed and messy project, but instead their sequencing and use of transitions allowed for these elements to be fully appreciated without impinging on other elements of the tracks, or the album’s themes at large.
Battle Lines closes on “Fallen From Your Arms”, a sombre track with romantic lyrics about losing a significant figure in one’s life. The vocals are more raw, and portray a great amount of emotional intensity that outshines many of the other verses on the album. The slight distortion that creeps in is also a welcome showing of texture and closes the album in a beautifully melancholic way.
Overall, Bob Moses’ sophomore album paints a more mature picture of the duo, with beautifully communicated messages about conflict and the battles that come with modern existence. It’s a very unique project and the instrumental density and skill alone is enough to warrant a listen or two.
THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Battle Lines is available Friday 14th September through Domino