As a reviewer, some of the most entertaining bands to cover have an eclectic list of apparent influences. It’s fun to flex my rolodex of bands and genres to describe an artist’s sound. More importantly, they tend to produce some of the most unique, creative music in their respective genre(s). All of this applies to Croatian trio Them Moose Rush, whose bricolage of core and experimental rock subgenres offers an immediate adrenaline rush that settles into genuine intrigue with each listen. Whether you want a deep listening experience or summer jams for a lazy Sunday drive, Dancing Maze has you covered.
Track titles like “Jerry’s Bacon Flavored Vegan Potion” made it clear I was in for an entertaining listen before pressing play. Beyond the broad array of influences, Them Moose Rush take a loose, whimsical approach to songwriting that’s just plain contagious. Every track on Dancing Maze prompted a combination of head banging, chair dancing, and “ooh, that riff” face, often times all of the above. If you don’t care about the band’s underlying musical interests, it’s still a perfect album to sit back and enjoy the ride.
But of course, I’m fascinated by the perfect balance Them Moose Rush strike between riff-oriented alt-rock and the experimentation of adjacent subgenres. The best summary I can muster is “At the Drive-In and Primus making a concept album about ’90s alt-rock.” There are hints of several bands from that era that you might hear on Dancing Maze depending on your own listening habits. But at their core, the band’s music is driven by the energy and oddities of rock’s underbelly, with emotive vocals, prominent and boisterous bass, and a general restlessness driving each song into bold new places.
We need only skip to the end of the album to hear this formula in action. “Jack’s Secret Algorithm” is a bouncy, off-kilter jam that sounds like Cedric Bixler-Zavala crooning over a spiritual sequel to Tales from the Punchbowl, specifically “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver.” Earlier in the album, “Jude’s Got Another” plays like the missing link between At the Drive-In and The Mars Volta, loud and raucous with just enough restraint. “Sonny’s Hidden Money” throws that caution to the wind with big, brash riffs and a sneering vocal performance from guitarist Nikola Runjavec. His voice sounds like a mix between Bixler-Savala and Robert Plant with his own flair, a perfect fit for his powerful yet playful riffing.
Circling back to that Primus reference, I can’t understate how important Them Moose Rush’s rhythm section is as well, especially bassist Branimir Kuruc. While he’s not as flashy as Les Claypool, he follows in the tradition of establishing level footing with his bandmates. Frankly, the entire trio operates with communal responsibilities, as they all prove equally instrumental to the success of each track. They’re all talented, innovative players moving in the same direction, which is often a trajectory the listener didn’t see coming. “Chris’s Cake Crisis” sounds like Slint relocated to Seattle amid the grunge boom, while “Jeff’s Transcending” toys with the loud-quiet dynamic pioneered by the Pixies.
Dancing Maze proves that immediacy and experimentation aren’t mutually exclusive. With each new track, Them Moose Rush shuffle around the numerous rock subgenres informing their sound, making for an endlessly entertaining and inventive album. Whatever your definitions of “classic” and “modern” rock might be, Them Moose Rush crafts a decade-spanning sound that’s simultaneously a forward-looking addition to the rock pantheon.
Dancing Maze is available June 19 via Bandcamp.