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Moonshake, "Eva Luna" Deluxe Edition

Eva LunaI believe I stumbled upon Moonshake's singular 1992 debut full-length by blind luck at a used record store, but I cannot remember if I picked it up because I was already vaguely aware that Margaret Fiedler was cool or if it was still pre-Laika. In any case, I always thought of Moonshake primarily as Fieldler's alternately frustrating and brilliant first band. In hindsight, however, I failed to appreciate how truly radical this foursome were during their brief flourish and dearly wish that I had dug a bit deeper back then, as Eva Luna could have (and should have) been my gateway into an amazing world of killer underground music that I was not yet aware of (krautrock, post-punk, free jazz, Jamaican dub, and even the C86 scene). Listening to this expanded reissue now with considerably more adventurous ears, I still find this album oft-frustrating, but I am newly struck by how almost every song features at least one moment where Moonshake sounded like the best band on the goddamn planet. That white-hot inspiration did not always sustain itself for an entire song, but this reissue beautifully strengthens the original album with some welcome gems from the band's early EPs.

Beggars Arkive/Matador/Too Pure

The idea for Moonshake first took shape after the 1990 demise of guitarist/singer Dave Callahan's previous band The Wolfhounds. He was weary of playing rock music and wanted to try something more eclectic and sample-driven, but he was less than thrilled with the sound of his own voice, so he placed an ad in Melody Maker for a female guitarist and Margaret Fielder was the only person who responded. Callahan's original plan was allegedly to combine Byrds-inspired vocal harmonies with samples and Metal Box-inspired dubwise post-punk, but both of those influences fell by the wayside once Fiedler's own creative input started to shape their sound. The new band's first release was 1991's First EP on Creation Records, which is something of a gem in its own right, but sounds completely different from Moonshake of Eva Luna: the shoegaze-y melodicism of First is very much in line with other Creation bands of the time like Swervedriver and My Bloody Valentine. That achievement did not suit Callahan at all, so the band set out to completely reinvent themselves for their next major statement (spoiler alert: the PIL influence came back in a big way, but was joined by some fresh influences from hip-hop, free jazz, noise, and elsewhere).

The aspects that immediately struck me about Eva Luna in the '90s remain every bit as true today: 1) Callahan's newly sneering and snarling vocals are a bit of an acquired taste, and 2) the band had a very adventurous, eclectic, and oft-schizophrenic vision. As Fiedler put it, "Moonshake was a collision - it was supposed to be a collision." The most obvious collision is that of the two principal songwriters, as the songs written and sung by Fiedler are more melodic, sensuous, and psych-inspired, while the pieces written by Callahan tended to be fiery and confrontational. That said, both Callahan and Fiedler played guitar and contributed samples and all of their contributions were subject to inventive deconstruction, so it is damn near impossible to tell where either artist's vision begins or ends with anything other than the vocals.

With apologies to Callahan, I've always found two Fiedler pieces to be the album's greatest heights: "Sweetheart" and "Little Thing." In "Sweetheart," the band unleashes a wonderfully clattering dubwise groove and the slashing ugliness of the guitar hook is perfectly counterbalanced by the softness of Fiedler's vocals and the trippy sounds flickering in the periphery. "Little Thing," on the other hand, is built from a rolling trip-hop groove enhanced with a gorgeous vibraphone-esque melody and plenty of scraping and stuttering guitar noise. I am also quite fond of the similarly rolling groove of the more hushed "Bleach & Salt Water," but the bigger headline is how much I have since grown to appreciate the album's other songs. While the swirling chaos of the crescendo of "Mugshot Heroine" stands as an especially unhinged and wonderful moment, nearly every song contains at least one god-tier noise freakout or killer sample and EVERY song features an absolutely stellar rhythm section (John Frenett and "Mig" Moreland) that can rival PIL or Can at their best (groove-wise, at least). Someone really needs to produce an instrumental dub companion from these masters with all the '90s alt rock elements stripped away, as it would be an absolute banger.

In yet another freak bit of luck for me, this reissue also includes the two Fiedler-era Moonshake releases that I had not heard before (1992's Secondhand Clothes and Beautiful Pigeon EPs) and they are generally every bit as good as Eva Luna. In particular, "Blister" is another Fiedler gem that features some very cool guitar sounds and skwonking free jazz chaos, yet Callahan's "Drop in the Ocean" is a surprise stunner that builds to a memorably face-melting crescendo. The band's previously bootleg-only 1992 Peel Session is a bit of an inspired inclusion as well, as Callahan and Fiedler switch vocal duties for alternate versions of a few of their strongest songs.

Fittingly, the album ends with a Fiedler-sung version of Callahan's volcanic "Mugshot Heroine." It is not quite as great as the album version, but it certainly reminds me of it, which then reminds me that Moonshake at their best rivals the finest work of any of their more revered influences or contemporaries. Unsurprisingly, the volatile/schizophrenic chemistry of the band was not meant to last, so Fiedler and Callahan parted ways after 1993's Big Good Angel EP (not included here) to follow their own divergent and fruitful paths: Callahan continued Moonshake, reformed The Wolfhounds, and established himself as a renowned birder, while Fiedler formed Laika, toured with PJ Harvey and Wire, has the record for playing in the most different bands in John Peel sessions (all the aforementioned plus God Is My Co-Pilot), earned a law degree, worked at the BBC, and threw herself into a passion for candle-making and aromatherapy. Both artists have recorded their share of fine music separately since Eva Luna, but it was still nice to get one last EP from that one-of-a-kind creative union and it is possibly even nicer that Beggars Arkive have now consolidated all of the other vital material from the era into this one expanded release.

Listen here.