The term “long-awaited debut album” takes on a new significance when it comes to Wynona Bleach’s Moonsoake. It’s well over two years now since the band packed their entire studio into a van (weighing everything to the last gram!) and travelled to Portugal for recording. It’s unlikely any of the band could have imagined how things would change in the following months. Throw in a global shortage of vinyl and the beautifully packaged purple record including a collage of photos of the band taken during production, is an even more impressive feat and well worth the investment.
The Belfast-based five piece is perhaps best known for having a huge sound - drummer Matt Killen often plays behind perspex sheets and Jonny Woods, Aaron Black and Carl Gilmore on guitars and bass create a wall for Melyssa Shannon’s vocal to either rest on or smash through, depending on the needs of the song. Where some bands simply can’t replicate their live sound in the studio, Wynona Bleach offer a masterclass.
Drag kicks the album off with a killer drum intro. The guitar hook joins for a few bars before that wall of sound smacks and Shannon’s layered vocal floats in on top of everything. From the first bars it’s clear Moonsoake will build on the great foundations laid by 2018’s Sugar EP. Glimmer keeps the pace up with a spiky ear worm of a guitar riff and a chorus which rightly earned a significant amount of radio plays when it was released as the first single from the album. Later, Graffiti is an aggressive four to the floor stomp, while Flesh has a little more light with cleaner guitars before an almost synth-like fuzz bass builds it to a huge crescendo.
Support shows with Alice In Chains in 2019 and comparisons with Smashing Pumpkins cover Wynona Bleach’s heavier rock sound, but that’s only half the story. With Lights, Amigo and Moonsoake Wynona Bleach show more of the pop nous that’s led to their working with The Coral co-founder Bill Ryder-Jones, as well as Andy Bradfield and Avril Mackintosh who after a chance meeting with guitarist Wood got involved to mix four tracks. Lights is mid-paced and about as close to a ballad as Wynona Bleach go, while Amigo is gloriously upbeat pop/rock. Initially pulling the layers and reverb back on Shannon’s vocal works perfectly here, before the song opens out, building towards its anthem refrain of, “Don’t you go falling to pieces.” Both have moments you’ll find yourself humming long after listening. Moonsoake employs the genius production move of opening the song with the chorus hook - the band describes it as the album’s “pop relief track” - and is undoubtedly one of the album’s highlights.
While the band has clearly identified their sound, they aren’t unwilling to experiment. Hollow is distinctly unsettling with its chaotic drumming, discordant riff and vocals that wouldn't be out of place in the score of a horror film. It’s ominous and a brilliantly brave move for the first half of a debut album, but it works and grows with every listen thanks to one of the album’s many massive chorus hooks. Blue Jean closes on a bittersweet note as huge fuzzing guitars are swapped for acoustics, dual vocals from guitarist Wood and Shannon and a building crescendo of strings and synth.
Wynona Bleach haven’t taken the easy or even the conventional route to releasing their first album. Not many bands undertake a tour of Russia, change their name and then decide to record in a disused Iberian factory just before a global pandemic. They’ve done all of that and the experience has fused them together to create an excellent debut album. Moonsoake is a feel-good, head banging, fuzzy party packed with brilliant melodic hooks well deserving of all the accolades it’s bound to receive.
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