Bob Moses - Battle Lines

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There are not many artists who have been invited to perform on both The Ellen DeGeneres Show and for the Robot Heart collective at Burning Man. But for Bob Moses, one of dance music's biggest crossover acts of the past few years, both appearances made sense. The Vancouver-born duo began making music together in Brooklyn in 2012, and their work quickly found favour. The combination of smouldering guitars, Tom Howie's bruised croon and Jimmy Vallance's seductive, uncluttered production worked as well on festival stages as it did in intimate clubs.

Their 2015 debut album for Domino, Days Gone By, made Bob Moses more popular still, and earned the duo two Grammy nominations. On their second LP, Bob Moses seem less concerned with the Black Rock City crowd and more focussed on the sort of fans who might have come to them through Ellen. A co-producer, Lars Stalfors—who has worked with Cold War Kids, Local Natives and HEALTH—has been brought in. The resulting collection of songs, discussing "the struggles or battles we all go through; battles inside ourselves, struggles with each other and with our society," is markedly different to Days Gone By and their first three EPs. Vocals and guitars are emphasised here in a way they haven't been before. More than ever, Howie and Vallance are asserting themselves as a band rather than an electronic act.

The first single, "Back Down," opens with a set of whiny chords that might belong to any number of middling rock bands, and it's about as far removed from the dance floor as anything we've heard from Bob Moses. On the album opener, "Heaven Only Knows," Howie's celestial vocals soar over simple drums. There are some instrumental sections, but, like nearly everything else here, it's more of a song than a track. "Eye For An Eye" features more of the same generic pop rock vocals and familiar guitar lines. On "Nothing But You," the album's low point, Howie's treated voice brings to mind Adam Young of Owl City, culminating in a saccharine, radio-geared chorus.

There are bright spots. "The Only Thing We Know" features guitars redolent of Darkside, a rolling groove and an interesting vocal cadence. "Enough To Believe" is a gorgeous earworm built around a metronomic beat and Howie's finest vocal on the album—half spoken, half sung and extra effective against downcast string synths. The back-end breakdown of "Listen To Me" sounds more like the Bob Moses of old. Other songs are passable rather than memorable. The closer, "Fallen From Your Arms," an electric piano ballad, stands out for being the most non-club track of all.

Bob Moses' best work puts the production first. Older tracks often clocked in at over six minutes. Echoing beats were given space to bloom gradually, carrying as much weight as Howie's haunting vocals. The mood was almost always dusky and sensual, but the track structures were impressively diverse and lyrics were strong, especially in the outstanding "Tearing Me Up." There's nothing wrong with aiming big. The problem is that, in losing sight of the dance floor, Battle Lines does away with Bob Moses' greatest strength, and the quality that made them stand out from countless other pop and rock acts.

01. Heaven Only Knows
02. Battle Lines
03. Back Down
04. Eye For An Eye
05. The Only Thing We Know
06. Nothing But You
07. Enough To Believe
08. Listen To Me
09. Selling Me Sympath
10. Don't Hold Back
11. Fallen From Your Arms