If Queen Moo's predecessor band Two Humans was ever described as part of the emo revival, they were always the outliers. From their early days of scrappy punk pop that peaked on Best Folks to the masterful rock transition of Institute of Living, singer-guitarist Jason Rule and rotating cast of band members have never made the same record twice, awkwardly pushing, tripping, and twisting their way into something much stranger as the band matured.
With his newly invigorated project, the band continues to impress: Queen Moo's self-titled debut is a jarring next step that Institute only hinted at—a whirlwind realization of a modern rock record that grabs you by the collar and pulls you through it's emotional wreckage and redemption.
Older, wiser, and weirder, the band has developed a more eccentric sense of rhythm and melody. While previous efforts often looked forward to the next triumphant chorus, Queen Moo's music avoids obvious hooks and conventional song structures. Opener “Hook Sox” quickly sets the tone for the record: the young, reckless energy of previous efforts has been replaced with ragged heartbreak and anxious reflection. When Rule laments lines like “What do you know about friends / Do you know what they're for? / I’ll drink you in through thick and thin. My dear, do I bore your eyes?”, the frustration is often followed with a raucous frenzy of irregularly timed full band stomps, swings, and blind jabs at the air. On later album standouts, “Don't Think I Do” and the instant classic “Cactus Romantic”, these rhythmic shifts kick up dust and push through so many unpredictable parts it requires repeated listens for the listener to catch up.
Probably the most apparent addition is Queen Moo's bassist and long time collaborator Kevin O'Donnell taking on a large part of the vocal duties. His blunt execution and more down to earth tone serves as a natural foil for Rule's more round sounding emotional caterwaul. On what might be the album's catchiest song, the “Introduction / Upper Butcher” combo, each vocal embodies the manic depressive sides of the same anxious melody. It's when both singers are blended in numerous layers they sound less like they are coming from dual front men and more like a single entity.
It's in the final third of the album that the listener really gets a reprieve from all the riffage to take a breath and recognize the real emotional resonance of the record. "Captain Glee", short and sweet, is a quick reminder that these guys can pull off playful and quiet too, without losing any of the emotional intensity of the previous seven tunes. Once the album kicks back in, it feels like a victory lap. On the last two tracks, the self-referential "Three Humans", and "Amends", there is real, tangible sense of wisdom and redemption gained in quips like "true love comes in threes" and “there's a difference between personal and making false amends.”
Anthemic, emotionally moving, and rewarding with repeated listens, Queen Moo's first record is an impressive continuation of one of the best bands to come out of Connecticut.