For such a patently American locale, the Twin Cities have lacked a remarkable group that evokes the American rock canon in a classic manner for a long time. Enter Night Moves. Formed in 2009 by guitarist and vocalist John Pelant, bassist Micky Alfano and multi-instrumentalist Mark Ritsema, Night Moves is a distinctly original concoction. Their honey-dipped sound seethes with a kind of down-home tenderness -- and like the best glittering music -- the arrangements are colossal in shape. Night Moves’ powerful debut Colored Emotions is this Minneapolis group’s first album.
The three core members of Night Moves first met at Southwest High School in Minneapolis. Following the tangential fits and starts typical of early music projects (including a detour to college and back), the ensemble took definite shape as Night Moves and is the crowning achievement to the long-standing collaboration between John Pelant and Mark Ritsema, who first met as freshman.
Pelant’s taste for Dylan, Blind Lemon Jefferson, et. al, would prove most propitious for their future work together in Night Moves. Ritsema describes himself as being into electronic music at the time - a Daft Punk fan - when he met budding folknik Pelant. Pelant throughout high school would write some solo material but hadn’t been keen on sharing. Whatever musical differences there were between them faded as the motivation to play music together persisted over the next years.
In 2009, with the group at last solidified with the addition of bassist Micky Alfano, Night Moves began the long, astounding odyssey that was recording their meticulous debut album Colored Emotions. Nearly two years in the making, the debut exudes the craft and professionalism of a seasoned band. It was these painstakingly self-recorded tracks Night Moves prepared themselves that attracted interest from Domino, further developed with the appointment of studio guru Thom Monahan to take the album and set it free, so to speak.
Monahan's easy-going nature was a relief for this perfectionist ensemble, who had already made something wholly precious in private. According to Pelant, Monahan’s mountainous pedigree of producing terrific psychedelic pop and freak-folk outfits immediately eased their mind: Vetiver, Devendra Banhart, Beachwood Sparks... Night Moves were indeed in good company, and so they hauled down to Los Angeles to put the final touches on Colored Emotions.
Pelant's tone-perfect vocals on Colored Emotions serves Night Moves not just as its lyrical core but also its glittering adornment. With an extensive vocal range, his voice ventures where lone guitar solos cannot. Hence, there’s no cornball guitar hero antics in Night Moves. Instead, they carefully built their songs around strong acoustic and rhythmic grounds, the clarity of crystal-clear production, and Pelant’s deft howl. The reverb of hollow-body guitars, the bright wash of crash cymbals, the haze of harmonica and organ tremolo – this is the album’s bedrock and it shines like gold.
And just as The Zombies’ classic Odyssey and Oracle has surprising melodic twists and shape-shifting choruses but never beats you over the head with them, the epic arrangements throughout Colored Emotions are sophisticated but not overbearing. Standouts “Headlights” and “Country Queen” are both perfect examples: seamless segues and hook-laden bridges defy conventional song structures, yet remain altogether memorable.
The songs of Night Moves conjure a spiritual energy only twenty-somethings dislodged by adversity and isolation could produce. An album like Colored Emotions seems intent to turn inward to create a joyous universe within its own boundaries. Certainly, the group's musical abilities are innate without ever being too self-conscious about it. It’s as if Colored Emotions came second nature to them and the arrival of the rest of us took them by surprise.
- Anthony Atlas