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Moviola: Broken Horses

To me, Moviola will always be best as a singles band.  Maybe instead of "singles band" I should say "EP band," but I think "singles band" sounds better.  Either way, I got to know this Columbus institution via the single/EP, and so they're an ace singles band to me. 

I was a relative latecomer to Moviola's lengthy mid-to-late-90's parade of 7"s that seemingly came out on every small (and cool) label from the Midwest to New England.  As a kid in Cleveland digging the Ohio lo-fi rock, I suppose it was inevitable Moviola would be right up my alley, though for whatever reason it wasn't until I picked up their Wabana split 7" with Cobra Verde that I signed up for good.  I bought the Wabana split for the CV tune, but Moviola outshined their NE Ohio counterparts.  Where Cobra Verde's gave me one decent enough late-Gillard era CV rock track, Moviola responded with three (count 'em) home-recorded classics.  This was how I liked my music: melodic and genuine, with the right amount of fuzz and general Ohio weirdness lurking around the corners.  I was sold, and from then on whenever another one of those Moviola EP's popped up in the 7" bin, I was taking it home.

Moviola's full length records have always been keepers.  I remember giving "1970" and "Wisdom Teeth" from The Year You Were Born a good amount of spins on my old Made In Ohio show on UD's Flyer Radio back in the day (and I was especially psyched when station management decreed that "Flag You Down" from the then brand-new Durable Dream would go into the station's "heavy rotation").  Glen Echo Autoharp is another personal favorite, and last year's Dead Knowledge was one of the highlights of a pretty solid year of LP's (dig the WoW review). 

Moviola's Broken Horses 

As good as those full-length records have been to me, though, I keep finding myself going back to the EP's.  I suppose that's one of the main reasons that I've been enjoying the "new" Moviola full-length so much.  Released a few weeks ago on Spirt of Orr, Broken Horses is an "early rarities" album that collects songs from across those "golden age" EP years (approximately 1994-2001).  As most of these collections do, it's got something for everyone:  For the uninitiated, there's classics like the title track and the epic "City Like This."  For the more seasoned veterans, there's previously unreleased gems like the laid back, acoustic "County Lines," "Half As Long" (featuring the trademark Moviola electric lead and high harmony), and the mesmerizing "Signals Crossed," along with a driving live version of "Bank Machine."

The common thread through everything here -- whether it's an old or new track -- is that sorta hard-to-explain "Moviola quality."  It's all pretty much lo-fi, but it's not the joyously loud and agressive lo-fi you know from your Electric Eels or Times New Viking records.  Instead, it's a cleaner, more relaxed sound.  Not sterile or antiseptic, but clearer, kind of a more organic and engaging East River Pipe-type sound, if that means anything.  I guess what I'm trying to say is that these are largely self-produced, "lo-fi" recordings, but, like the best self-produced, lo-fi recordings (i.e., those done by the likes of GBV and TNV), the sound suits the song and the band.  That means that "Greenwood" sounds crisp, airy, and subtle, with its quiet guitars and floating vocals, and "Inhalants" sounds a bit haphazard but focused, with its muddied guitars and drums that are punctuated by controled hits of distorted vocals and feedback.  Basically, the medium is made to fit the message, or something.

In a weird way, maybe the most impressive thing about Broken Horses is that its 60+ minutes are loaded with so much great stuff, even though (according to Spirit of Orr) the CD represents a mere third of Moviola's non-album material.  For every song like "Inhalants" or "Bass Kids Ears," there's an equally memorable one like "Empty Ford" or "Calling on the Line" that didn't make the cut.  There's so much here, it makes you want to head over to your local used record store to see if they might have the elusive two or three Moviola records that you need to fill in the gaps in your collection.  After all, it's all good.

Broken Horses is available from Spirit of Orr in a limited edition of 300 CDR (with handmade cover).  I'm tempted to say it's a good companion piece to Dead Knowledge, but that really wouldn't be doing it justice.  It stands on its own as a vital document of one of the great enduring Ohio bands from the last 15 years.

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