- Moondogs, ACiD TeST
Genre in music has been dying a slow death for a while now. There's no way to pinpoint exactly when the decline began, but the rise of streaming services and the fall of the big record label system were likely flash points. Since then, in a world of algorithms and AI-curated playlists, the lines between genres have blurred to the point of creating confusion.
Observe the Kacey Musgraves Grammy nomination fiasco. One of the biggest country music stars in the world is disqualified from consideration for the Best Country Album Grammy award because, um ... reasons? After IGOR, a conceptual record that was infamously difficult to categorize, won the 2020 Grammy for Best Rap Album, Tyler, the Creator came out and named the problem: "It sucks that whenever we, and I mean guys that look like me, do anything that's genre-bending, they always put it in a rap or urban category."
While these philosophical battles are fought on the top tiers of the industry, eschewing genre can actually be freeing on the indie level. Bands such as Burlington's Moondogs (not to be confused with the early '80s Northern Irish rockers of the same name) don't have to debate whether they're a jam band or a synth pop act. They can just make a summer festival-ready roots-rock jam like "WhY?," all acoustic guitar and good vibes, and toss it on the same record as album opener "LiGHT." The latter feels more like a song for a late night, when you're coming down at the club.
Until recently, the Moondogs were a one-man show. University of Vermont student Will Sturcke wrote, performed and recorded ACiD TeST (yes, the capitalization thing with the album and song titles gets old very quickly) in early 2020, just before the pandemic hit. Since it wasn't the best time to put out a record, Sturcke instead recruited several other UVM musicians to turn his project into a proper band.
Whether becoming a full band changes the Moondogs' sound going forward remains to be seen, but Sturcke has provided a wide vista from which to work. ACiD TeST rarely remains still, bouncing from style to style. On "RiDe On," Sturcke builds an R&B groove with simmering instrumentation and soulful melodies before letting fly a searing guitar solo.
"SiDEWALKS" takes a slight turn toward hip-hop, with Sturcke all but rapping a quick burst of lyrics. "Maybe I'm wasting my time / Maybe I'm blowing your mind / Maybe this shit blows up and we'll all be fine," he wonders.
Lyrically, Sturcke isn't treading in particularly deep waters, but there is real force in his voice. His melodies soar when he needs them to.
Sturcke can do atmospheric, as well. With "ride on Pt.2," the Moondogs detour into crystalline nylon-string guitar and distorted, delayed vocals that call to mind fellow Burlington artist Willverine, minus the huge beats.
For such an eclectic work, ACiD TeST maintains impressive cohesiveness. Perhaps that's due to Sturcke's imprint and skilled songwriting. Where the record dips a little is in the moments when he's playing it safe. The weirder, the more chopped-up and unidentifiable the Moondogs come across, the better.
Check out ACiD TeST on Spotify.