Between The War on Drugs, Kurt Vile, and Phosphorescent, vintage-styled, Americana-infused rock has had a very successful few years. Night Moves’ 2012 debut Colored Emotions was a solid, if unexceptional entry in that particular canon. Pennied Days expands on that album’s style, expunging almost every trace of country music, and replacing it with lush synths and gloriously cheesy pianos.
Opener Carl Sagan opens with what sounds like a distant echo of an old rock song, which is appropriate, since the track sounds as though it easily could have been written in the 1970’s. With its plonking piano chords and swirling guitars, the track is pretty and nostalgic, yet it can easily wash over the listener, finishing before one has ever realised it’s over. The seven-minute Hiding In the Melody is the biggest culprit of this haziness, with its repetitive nature failing to leave much of an impact, in spite of John Pelant’s assertive vocals. The mix is just so awash with echo and guitar effects that the melody gets lost in the fray.
The tracks with more distinct instrumental melodies, like Border on Border, which is built around a catchy piano riff, are much more successful. The track’s assortment of strings and synths are undeniably cheesy, but the band dedicates to it and makes it their own, earning the drama with a smoothly mixed arrangement. Staurolite Stroll also succeeds on its dedication to a deliriously silly riff, sounding like something out of Magnum, P.I. It grounds its own audaciousness in the sweet vocal harmonies of its lead melodies, and Pelant’s falsetto, and the track has a pathos lacking from the more low-key songs on the record.
Night Moves’ songs are best when they lean into their influences, instead of trying to update the sounds of classic rock to a more slick aesthetic. When the band dares to embrace pastiche and cheese, they create something quite striking and distinct, but all too often, Pennied Days slips into hazy instrumentals and undefinable melodies.