When Kevin Murphy sent his new album, Adiós I’m A Ghost to me, I assumed the title was just a clever play on words filling the void until he found just the right turn of phrase to sum up The Moondoggies’ third full-length release on Hardly Art. It turned out, he already had.
Adiós I’m a Ghost, as a title and explanation of a theme, combines levity with ideas that are no laughing matter. “Adiós I’m a Ghost was, like our [band] name, a combination of a joke and serious ideas. I heard the phrase on a Phil Hendrie podcast…and it grew into something else for me; being able to have life after death. Because we live and die million times in the big span of being around. We transition. And the Moondoggies lived and died and lived again, but not so absolutely…we just shifted away, shed our old skin and now we’re…” Murphy drifts off. “ I hope” he says, “this album relays our want to have no form.”
To shift shapes, much less become shapeless, the Moondoggies had to change: their line-up, the way they communicated, recorded, and wrote. They would have to push beyond the public pigeonhole of being a bearded band from Seattle singing in harmony to give the breadth of their influences a space in the spotlight. For Adiós I’m a Ghost they drew from a diverse list of musical influences from Pink Floyd to Blonde Redhead, Mississippi John Hurt to Nirvana.
Though they are oft compared to Laurel Canyon crooners or Southern swamp boogiers, Adiós I’m a Ghost is a quintessentially Northwest record. It speaks, with more than words, of tumultuous transformation – changing pace as often as the weather on a Seattle spring day. Musically and lyrically, it balances light and dark, marrying the boisterous blues of their debut album Don’t Be a Stranger, the symphonic sadness of Tidelands, and a temperamental timbre previously unheard from the band. Still present are their signature honeyed harmonies, Bobby Terreberry’s bubbling bass lines, Carl Dahlen’s chugging drums, Caleb Quick’s roiling Rhodes, and lead vocalist and guitarist Murphy’s heady hooks. But there’s something undeniably different about this record, least of which is the addition of multi-instrumentalist Jon Pontrello to the band.
On paper, Adiós I’m a Ghost took a month to record in the studio and three years to write. In reality, it was over a decade in the making. A band made of lifelong friends, the “newest” official Moondoggie, Pontrello is actually Murphy’s oldest musical collaborator. The pair first began writing songs together at 14 on their parents’ back porches, playing both punk (in their band The Familiars) and pickin’ traditional bluegrass together. Pontrello had been an unofficial ‘Doggie since day one, but he’d been unable to commit to the band until he was needed in 2011 to fill in for bassist Terreberry on a tour. When Terreberry returned in 2012 after a year break from the band, Pontrello’s passionate performances on stage and his opinions in the studio had become so invaluable, they decided to officially expand from four members to five. “This is the band we hear in our head beginning to be realized,” says Murphy.
With new, old blood and a renewed passion for playing together, the Moondoggies channeled the band’s beginnings: dingy dive bars and DIY house shows, those damp teenage back porch jams, the hours on end spent improvising in their practice space. In the process of recording Adiós…, songs laid to rest were reborn (“Don’t Ask Why” was recorded for a never released album). Others were tirelessly edited until they were just right (“A Lot to Give” has been written and rewritten countless times over the course of years). Others exploded from the electric energy of the studio. All told, the band recorded 21 songs with producer Ryan Hadlock at Bear Creek Studios.
The 12 songs the band settled on highlight their dichotomies: dirty hooks and sweet harmonies, electric edge and plaintive pleas, chaotic collapse and restorative rhythm, nostalgia and newness. Though there is plenty that evokes the band that came before. Those of you looking for something familiar will be wowed by the Crazy Horse deja vu of “Don’t Ask Why,” and several of the new songs have already become live standards at Moondoggies shows. But as a listener, the most exciting parts of the album are the band’s explorations of this undefined territory they sought to inhabit. The surf strut that begins “Midnight Owl” is unlike anything heard before on a Moondoggies record, the upbeat tempo masking a brutal retelling of love at any cost.
As a creative process and a finished product, Adiós I’m a Ghost is the Moondoggies at their best yet; exemplary of their desire to move beyond a self-made mold and embrace a boundary-less existence.