Blending the best of Faith No More, Devin Townsend, Rage Against the Machine, A Tribe Called Quest, SNES soundtracks, imaginary cartoon intros and endless re-runs of Star Trek: Voyager, Croatian prog rockers Moon Unit‘s debut album Differences in language and Lifestyle is one of the wildest albums you’ll hear all year, while answering some very pressing questions, such as what happens if second coming but everyone’s a dinosaur, or when your only super power is talking to eels?
I wasn’t sure what to make of Moon Unit when I first heard them. The band bill themselves as a mix of Faith No More, Devin Townsend and Arcturus and, while I don’t hear too much of the latter in their sound, the wide (and wild) variety invoked by the earlier references certainly shines through in their sound. The similarities to Faith No More are readily apparent but also very specific. Rather than the darker palettes of Angel Dust (1992) and King For a Day… (1995) that most other bands pull from, Moon Unit very specifically invoke the severely underrated Real Thing-era FNM, (which is also probably my favourite album of theirs). Opener “Velocirapture” soars with the kind of nasally, high pitched melodies Mike Patton made his name with but haven’t been heard since, with other early tracks like “Motorized Frog Squad” and “Anatomy Park” built around a similar mix of funk and alt-rock, buried beneath a wave of luscious, uplifting prog rock.
What Differences in Language and Lifestyle is ultimately about is having fun, which is something sorely missed amid the self-serious world of progressive rock and metal. There’s plenty here on the musical front that draws comparisons to modern progressive metal titans like Dream Theater and Between the Buried and Me. Yet, while those bands are busy writing about proper-noun-laden future dystopias and coma-induced self-reflection, Moon Unit have created a tapestry of speculative Saturday morning cartoons, SNES soundtracks and ’50s adventure serials,whose most sullen offering is a meditation on the monotony and existential exhaustion of serving as an underling on Star Trek: Voyager. As the album progresses more and more hip-hop and nu metal influences start to creep through, “Secret Squad” sounding like P.O.D. by way of Billy Squire‘s “The Stroke,” and “Tiny Hands” a sinister take on French oddballs Shaka Ponk.
Differences in Language and Lifestyle perplexed me at first, but there was no denying the power of its melodies intrigue of its variety. I found myself continuously going back to it, my appreciation growing with every listen, to the point where it’s become my go-to feel-good record of 2021. It’s not often that such uplifting offerings come with such musical dexterity, nor such a challenging and unique identity, which truly sets Moon Unit apart, making Differences in Language and Lifestyle not only one of the best feeling, but simply one of the the best albums of the year.
It can still be a lot to unpack at first, but thankfully we got the band on board to break down the lyrical concepts and musical influences of each track, which will hopefully fast-track the experience for you, although, in some cases, it might just make things more perplexing…
VELOCIRAPTURE: A lot to unpack here. As the name says, it’s the second coming, but everyone’s a dinosaur. Heavy guitars and heavy synths trade fire against the backdrop of huge drums while vocals run with scissors shifting from chanting invocations to Raptor Jesus to melodic bridges and chorus. Excitement, confusion, dead lizard juice, and firm belief that despite US televangelists trying to convince us otherwise, the dinosaurs are the true children of God.
MOTORIZED FROG SQUAD: Motorized Frog Squad is one of the first songs we ever made as Moon Unit and formed the foundation of our first EP and the sound we were trying to attain. An opening track for an imaginary 80s action cartoon show about a North Korean frog squad trying to make it big in kaiju movie industry, it’s an adrenaline rush from start to finish. Also, our singer really killed it on this one and everyone gets a solo.
RAMMING SPEED: Ramming speed packs a lot of different stuff in only 3:40, rapid fire vocals, catchy chorus and a really beautiful guitar solo. We figured triremes and rowers don’t get nearly enough love so we made a Superbowl “be all you can be” commercial for the old Athenian navy, because if you need triremes you go to the Athenians, just steer clear of Syracuse.
ANATOMY PARK: Basically a love letter to Yumiko Kanki and Naoto Ishida’s F-Zero soundtrack from SNES (1990), synth brass doing synth brass things, shiny synth arps flying around in the background and lots of pace all around. If you ever find yourself racing hovercrafts (which may or may not be full of eels), this is the song to play.
ENSIGN FOR LIFE: For all you fellow travellers who have suffered through Star Trek Voyager in the 90s or in the endless reruns. Originally conceived as a torture device for the bass player (how long can we make him play the same pattern over and over again until he flips ), it grew into a super mellow pop song, with dreamy guitars, swirling synths and some really nice vocals. Perhaps the best example of us just rolling with the song instead of trying to fit it into some sort of mould.
SECRET SQUAD: One of our favourite songs and our first collaboration with awesome Tone Tuoro, an amazing and versatile MC from Zagreb whom you must check out. A bit of old school hip hop, with a cool 80s brass riff in the chorus and some smooth bass playing. The intro comes from a 50s Ovaltine commercial with some paranoid Cold War vibes and sets a perfect mood for an unlikely meeting of Rage Against the Machine and A Tribe Called Quest influences.
TINY HANDS: This one started out heavily influenced by a lot of really cool, if a bit sinister, Middle Eastern a Capella music, and awesome nasheed remixes by a guy named biz, but really came together when our farthest accomplice and official Moon Unit Commissioner for the Pacific, very talented Peter Grgec from New Zealand, laid down some bars in his inimitable style. Get ready for Peter Pan running sweatshops in Neverland amid occasional nu metal breakouts.
SPLITTING HARES: In many ways a sister song to Motorized Frog Squad, Splitting Hares sort of drifted away from a heavy and aggressive metal track to a heavy and aggressive SNES song about getting used to post-apocalyptic lifestyles and dubious dietary choices, with a huge melodic chorus. Started life as trailer music for an animated short about invasion of zombie cats, it showcases a recurring fascination with 80s and early 90s game composers, lots of random SFX, and a killer guitar solo shooting its way out of a pinball arcade.
EEL SHEPHERD: Not all superpowers are flashy. Anyone can handle flying or eye lasers, but what happens when you are blessed with the ability to speak to eels? Disgruntled superhero, tasked with overseeing eel migrations, the Eel Shepherd complains about general lack of recognition, eels being poor conversationalists, and other plights while still holding out hope for that movie deal. Probably the heaviest Moon Unit song to date.
GROB MARLEY: Another collaboration with Tone Tuoro and another song that was super fun to make. It just happened that we wound up with this totally cheerful and cool piece of music, so it was natural to just slap on some sinister stuff on top of it and see what happens. Monkey Island meets Boko Haram, ideal for those desert rides in your Toyota Hilux. Also, the pun in the title loses a lot in translation.
TUESDAY: Featuring a little bit of everything we do and going through many different evolutions, “Tuesday” is a pretty good showcase for the album, and a bit of a condensed prog epic. Starts out calm and mellow, occasionally explodes into huge riffs and choruses, and basically has a hard time staying put. In its own roundabout way it deals with coping with change and accepting and welcoming the natural end of all things.
Differences in Language and Lifestyle comes out tomorrow, 27 August, through PRT Records, and can be pre-ordered it through Moon Unit’s bandcamp page.