-by Ben Smith
Imagine a band playing a black tie gala. Or the tunes you’d hear in a hotel lobby. Or the melodies layered in the background of a fine-dining experience at a three-star Michelin restaurant in Paris.
Bring this to the forefront of your mind, and you’ll get an idea of what Los Angeles-based Moonchild are about. They are the soundtrack to a night-out, where the night in question involves, champagne, high society and important events. The trio, consisting of vocalist Amber Navran (vocals, tenor saxophone), Max Bryk (alto saxophone, flute, clarinet, keyboards) and Andris Mattson (trumpet/flugelhorn, keyboards), combine arty neo-soul with jazz grooves, putting their three years together in the University of South California’s jazz program to good use.
Please Rewind is their second full-length album; initially released in 2014, their recent signing to record label Tru Thoughts triggered the band to re-release it. This collection of ten songs, at times, is the aural equivalent of floating through the air, lying on a cloud; it’s one of the most relaxed, soulful albums I’ve listened to for some time, and it’s easy to see why the likes of Stevie Wonder and Tyler, The Creator are fans.
Opening track ‘All the Joy’ is a taste of what’s to come. It’s a dreamy track, boosted by the brilliance of the Navran’s voice. It seems like she’s almost whispering, yet her silky vocals always remain the centre of the listener’s attention. Lead single ‘The Truth’ showcases Moonchild in their element; the horns of Mattson which really help push the song along and take it to another level. They burst into life midway through the song, and add some much-needed character which separates it from the rest of the album.
Mattson’s use of the horns is often at the epicentre of this album’s best moments. They breathe new life whenever they’re featured, saving some songs from potentially being ‘just another song’. Their introduction in ‘I’ll Make it Easy’, a song which recalls the slightest of hints of Jarimoquai, lift the song from an average one into one of the better tracks.
Elsewhere, ‘Don’t Wake Me’ is one of the most memorable songs, because it feels less like a jazz song than the rest. The electronic swirls combine to a brilliant effect with Byrk’s groove-laden keys, pushing the song along at a nice tempo. ‘Winter Breeze’ starts slowly, but as the name suggests, springs to life like a gust of wind in the final half, Navran’s voice bursting through, accompanied by an emotive string section.
Where the album falls down is the band playing it too safe. At times, it’s hard to tell which song is which and there are a few songs which sound very similar. ‘Nobody’ plods along at a slow pace, which not even Navran’s gorgeous vocals can save, whilst ‘Just a Minute’ feels uninspired and quite simply, boring. The same could be said of ‘More than Ever’, which simply lacks the inspiration some other songs possess. The talent of the band is obvious, even in the weaker songs, but they’re at their best when not playing it safe; the cheeky trumpets in ‘I’ll Make it Easy’ and the dazzling keys on ‘Don’t Wake Me’ are testament to this.
Please Rewind features some great moments and it’s plainly obvious the trio have a great deal of talent. Navran’s vocals may be the heart, but Mattson’s keys and horns add some much needed spice to the record, whilst the keyboard work of Mattson and Byrk keep the album ticking along at a nice tempo. It’s where Moonchild seem content to rest on their laurels, relying solely on Navran and the keyboards, the album disappoints.
Photo Credit: Moonchild