Former NYC Indie Rock Icons Begin a Promising New Chapter.
Now and then, something comes along that seems so cut out for you that it almost feels like it was made specifically for you. That’s how I feel about the self-titled, debut album by Muzz. I’ll admit, it wasn’t exactly on my radar. I kind of just stumbled upon it.
But when I realized who was involved — Paul Banks (lead singer of Interpol) and Matt Barrick (drummer of The Walkmen) — I had to listen to it. There are a few bands I love as much as I love Interpol and The Walkmen. My first book, which I swear I will finish one day, is named after an album by The Walkmen. Josh Kaufman, of Bonny Light Horseman, rounds out the trio. Kaufman has also produced records by The National, The Hold Steady, The War on Drugs, and many others. The resulting album is a delightful surprise that should please fans of any of the guys’ other bands or those unfamiliar with them.
Paul Banks and Josh Kaufman first met in high school and have been friends ever since. The two met Matt Barrick separately when the three of them navigated their way through the New York City music scene of the early 2000s. Over the years, they have stayed in touch and collaborated on different occasions.
Barrick provided drums for two of Banks’ non-Interpol musical endeavors, his collaboration with RZA, Banks + Steelz, and on Banks’ solo work as Julian Plenti. Barrick also served as a session drummer for Kaufman. But their adventure as Muzz began in 2015. They have plenty of obligations to their other bands, so the Muzz album took a long time to come together.
Rather than writing songs in unison, from the ground up, typically, things began with a demo provided by Banks or Kaufman. From there, the band members built on the foundation together. Sometimes Barrick and Kaufman would work on the music in the beginning stages, and Banks would join in, adding lyrics or melodies. Unlike with Interpol, though, here, Banks didn’t write all the lyrics by himself. Hoping to capture the energy of the material, the band recorded as they rehearsed. Additionally, the band didn’t want the album to be tied to any time period musically.
“We didn’t want the record’s era to be overly identifiable, so we used traditional recording methods with a live, analog feeling,” -Paul Banks.
It seems hard to overstate how big of a deal this union would have been, had it arrived at the height of the New York City rock revival of the early 2000s. If in an alternate reality, Paul Banks and Matt Barrick had teamed up around 2005 or 2006 after Interpol’s Antics and The Walkmen’s Bows + Arrows, this could have been a landmark album. If anything, Muzz would have lived up to the supergroup label. Technically they are a supergroup because Muzz is made up of members from three different bands. However, the term supergroup evokes images of massive forces coming together to form a larger than life, stadium-filling band. And that’s not what Muzz is.
Muzz feels more like your dad and his buddies getting together in the basement to jam out and reminisce. In fact — and brace yourself for this — at times, the music comes startlingly close to dad-rock territory. That’s not necessarily, uncharted grounds for Barrick, whose previous band The Walkmen, seriously flirted with dad rock all over their last album, the tragically overlooked Heaven. The back cover of that album featured the band, posing with their children.
On the other hand, Interpol seemed to struggle with moving forward even as far back as Antics. The band established such a well-defined image so early on that, in essence, they painted themselves in a box that they’ve often struggled to break out of. Perhaps that’s why Banks has always embraced side projects that freed him of the need to meet any of the expectations associated with Interpol.
Because of that, there is a general sense of low stakes with this so-called supergroup. That’s not to say anything against the band or the album. The relative modesty of the project is one of its best qualities. The album is genuinely beautiful, both haunting and inviting; it feels classic yet timeless.
Even so, there is something almost inherently old school about this album and not just because it has a recognizably classic rock feel to it. It genuinely feels like an album that should be listened to from beginning to end. There might not be a strict concept running throughout, but it really does feel like the songs blend into each other and even build on one another.
The album kicks off with the downbeat but lovely ‘Bad Feeling.’ In it, Banks’ baritone vocals are accented by the backing vocals of Annie Nero and Cassandra Jenkins. And as the song goes on, it reveals a positive outlook that belies its seemingly gloomy title. You can practically imagine Banks putting his black shirts and suits in the closet in favor of a more loose-fitting Hawaiian shirt. It’s a good look.
The song provides a great start, but the album only gets better from there. One of the reasons why this is a beginning to end kind of album is because the songs are genuinely that good. If I had to pick a favorite track, ‘Evergreen’ might be one of my choices. It features beautiful slide guitar parts by Kaufman and a stunningly lovely vocal performance from Paul Banks. The song is honestly catchy and could have, conceivably, been a pop hit if radio still played indie rock.
Banks has grown so much as a singer since the beginning of his career. Interpol’s debut album, Turn on the Bright Lights, is considered a modern classic, and rightfully so. But people often forget that it was actually kind of lacking in the choruses and hooks department. Over the years, Banks’ ear for melodies has grown considerably, which can really be felt here.
Another contender for best song on the album follows immediately in ‘Red Western Sky.’ There’s something epic about this song, and Banks again shines with his vocals. By this point of the album, only three songs in, it becomes clear that this is not just a “side project.” With songs like ‘Summer Love,’ ‘All is Dead to Me,’ ‘Everything Like it Used to Be,’ and ‘Knuckleduster’ it is apparent that Muzz is a band genuinely worth listening to and not some simple curiosity to be sought out by fans of the members’ more famous bands.
All the band members bring their A-game, contributing equally to a fantastic album. Barrick, who many considered, The Walkmen’s unsung hero, shines as always without being overpowering. Kaufman’s piano parts provide beautiful melodies, and he adds sonic flourishes throughout. This is all tied together with Bank’s outstanding vocal performance that is vulnerable and emotional. Even though he has such a recognizable voice, at times, his singing feels as far removed from Interpol as possible. While that band is known for its music’s icy-cool atmosphere, Muzz is warm and more earnest.
And the band has terrific chemistry, bringing out the best in each other. But beautiful as it is, it’s possible that it might be a little too slow for some listeners who might wish, there was more urgency to the album.
Like with any supergroup, it’s almost impossible to go into this album devoid of expectations, but the best thing you could do is put those aside. Instead, think of Muzz as a bold new band from three guys who just happen to have played in other bands before this.
It remains to be seen if Muzz will become a long-lasting band or if it was just a one-off, an itch the guys wanted to scratch. But with this album, Muzz managed to live up to their lofty pasts and also hint at a promising future.