Originally from Australia, the Moodists are graduates of the thump’n’grind school of gothic punk. Combining dense metallic bass and razor-sharp guitar riffs with singer Dave Graney’s demonic growl, the band is capable of a most unholy din. Although dark and ominous, the music can at times be surprisingly melodic.
The seven-song Engine Shudder is not the Moodists at their most effective. The tracks are devoid of coherence and slip readily into redundancy. Only “Gone Dead” hints at a promising future, thanks to Graney’s layered vocals and Chris Walsh’s bass work.
Thirsty’s Calling is a remarkable improvement. The addition of a second discordant guitar and judicious production makes this music for nightmares. Setting vocals and guitars further back in the mix, the rhythm section comes into its own on “That’s Frankie’s Negative” and the standout, “Machine Machine.” Grimly primal, this music breathes life into pop’s forbidding alter-ego, a region where many dare to tread and few prove this successful.
The Moodists’ reign of terror continues on the six-song EP. Bass and voice are up-front this time, giving the tracks full-bodied menace. “Double Life,” “Six Dead Birds” and “Can’t Lose Her” are wonderfully desperate songs and by far the Moodists’ best to date. Following the EP, the band underwent personnel and label changes, returning in ’86 with the “Justice and Money Too” single — light, bluesy pop augmented with strings and piano. They may have lost their venom, but not the ability to craft stunning tunes.
Like the band’s late work, Graney’s post-Moodists output ditches the aggression and concentrates on tasteful, literate songcraft. At His Stone Beach finds Graney (backed by a group that includes ex-Orange Juice/Aztec Camera guitarist Malcolm Ross and Moodists drummer Clare Moore) making the most of his limited but expressive voice on four impressively crafted new tunes.
My Life on the Plains is a resounding fulfillment of the promise hinted at on the preceding EP (the contents of which are included as bonus tracks on the album’s CD). The fascination with frontier Americana suggested by the cover motif is reflected in haunting originals like “I’ll Set the Scene” and “Robert Ford on the Stage,” as well as thoughtful reworkings of songs by Gene Clark, Gram Parsons and Fred Neil. There’s also a spooky version of “The Streets of Laredo.” With a new combo that reunites the Moodists’ rhythm section, the music is supple and textured, providing a perfect vehicle for Graney’s increasingly accomplished writing and singing.
The Codine EP is five tracks from a live-in-the-studio Australian radio broadcast — the Buffy Sainte-Marie title tune, the trad folk standard “Jack of Diamonds” and three from Graney’s solo records. With My Life on the Plains‘ pianist traded in for a pedal-steel player, it’s a worthy addendum to the album.