For a certain kind of singer-songwriter, pop music has a particular allure. Rock, folk, and related forms often provide these types with safe passage into a scene, their clandestine longings for supermarket-checkout-line levels of fame kept in a back pocket. The exhaustive contemporary use of the term indie pop, that subcategory of guitar-based music where the performers actually know how to write a ditty, often offers sufficient cover for those who dream of bigger, cleaner green rooms and on-demand artisanal deli platters.
If these scoundrels get lucky enough, the time comes to show off their chops. That's when it all potentially falls apart, their hooks held to a higher standard than the typical act playing a 250-capacity venue. Sometimes the embarrassment proves colossal. But in most instances, the shame of unmet expectations is vague, hardly worth condemnation or ridicule. The artist returns a little humbler to what he or she excels at or otherwise knows better.
On the whole, Phil Moore's Tuskha resists either of these fates on its eponymous debut, largely due to fairly unambitious execution. The mild sins of the Bowerbirds member's LP will only rankle those impatient for that crowdfunded (and unfulfilled) follow-up to 2012's The Clearing. Even if his choice of instrumentation and effects pedals differs between the two projects, Moore's perfectly listenable album isn't quite the radical reinvention it threatened to be. With references to willow trees and lilac bushes, "Stops" feels at best like a half step from his tweedier main band, teensy eco-apocalypses and all.
Tuskha does no harm, even in its addiction to the notion that repetition is all it takes to make something catchy. Informed by today's radio and yesterday's synth presets, "No Pain" and "Fight All Things" make for diverting hybrids. Setting Tuskha's leisurely pace, electro-pop numbers like "The Program" amble along pleasantly, while "CV_Joint" exists just slightly left of recent Bieber or classic Artful Dodger.
Setting aside issues of scale, Moore's closest parallel in the gentle leap into pop's deceptively inviting maw is The Killers' Brandon Flowers. On a break from his millennial arena rock quartet, the charming Flowers presented a solo album titled Flamingo, one considerably close to the Jersey-meets-Vegas charms of his group work. Anyone who'd been to a Killers show could tell how much Flowers wanted to make his synthesizer sound bigger and more immediate than any guitar. But when he had the chance, he played it too safe, clearly reluctant to make a major, humiliating blunder. A kindred spirit, Moore does just fine with this similarly conservative solo shot and should get the reception that he deserves.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Ready Refinement"