Ask the members of Chicago rock trio Moontype what they think they sound like, and the answer boils down to something so simple, it’s almost ingenious: Moontype only sounds like themselves. Singer and bassist Margaret McCarthy, guitarist Ben Cruz, and drummer Emerson Hunton (all graduates of Ohio’s famed Oberlin College) are admirably doing things on their own terms, in their own way. It doesn’t quite fit the definition of indie rock in the traditional sense, but it’s… close. This, as it turns out, isn’t a bad thing at all.
Elements of jazz and psych rock mingle with quiet, introspective moments on the group’s debut album, the stellar BODIES OF WATER (out now on Chicago’s Born Yesterday Records). Listen closely enough, and you’ll tend to agree that Moontype truly doesn’t sound like any other band out there right now. McCarthy and the band can vouch for that. “Our songs aren’t supposed to sound like or emulate particular bands or styles,” McCarthy says. If you’ve been searching for something fresh and immediately gripping, you’ve come to the right place.
McCarthy, Cruz and Hunton are both reflective and excited about the success of the trio’s debut to date—it’s received airplay from the likes of KEXP and KCRW, along with plenty of solid buzz online. But with Moontype, it’s about more than buzz, it’s about subtle, nuanced songs that dive deeper the more you listen. “We’re humbled and flattered that the record has been well-received and that people connect to it,” McCarthy says. “We’re really grateful for the amount of press and airplay it has received so far.”
I’ve been listening to the record non-stop, and let me tell you: It’s a very easy LP to play on repeat, and you capture a bit more each time. Prior to the trio forming, McCarthy had recorded and released music under the Moontype moniker herself, and began playing songs first with Cruz before later adding Hunton on drums. McCarthy built the framework of some of these tracks (including “Anti-Divinity,” more on this one shortly) on bass guitar, a precise process that created a locked-in sound with two more band members now along for the ride. When asked about the album’s influences, the band agreed that they tend to be so locked into what they’re doing, the outside world doesn’t seep in. “We mostly bring our influences to the band unconsciously,” McCarthy noted.
For what it’s worth, the minimalism of BODIES OF WATER sometimes reminds me of other groups known for (at times) spare, crisp arrangements and angular guitar work (think the celebrated but still-overlooked Life Without Buildings or Welsh post-punk band Young Marble Giants). And yet, the album has so much more going for it. This is the case whether it’s the powerful thrum of the epic “Ferry” or the churn of album opener “Anti-Divinity,” which kicks off with such force that it feels like you’ve been dropped into the middle of a band practice.
Cruz and Hunton played together in separate projects that focused on styles like free-flowing jazz rock, which no doubt helped to hone the band’s considerable groove. When blended with the from-the-ground up approach McCarthy built as a solo artist, it all works in harmony. Although the trio is still shaking off the rust of not being able to play live, one imagines they’ll get up to speed in no time. It’s certainly a record worth hearing in a room, plugged in and among a crowd.
“Alpha” injects a bit of ska and some psych rock notes into the mix, and the blistering guitar run at the end of “Stuck On You” is enough to make you play the song again, all the better to pick up on anything you might have missed. Elsewhere on the album, “About You” hums along with a steady bass line and crashing guitar as McCarthy sings “You taught me to love so fierce and so hard/fighting for the feeling like a healing charge.” Meanwhile, “When Will I Learn” ripples with intricate guitar as McCarthy recites the song’s title, one of the album’s many relatable moments. Tune into the band’s recent Audiotree Live session, and it feels urgent and immediate, like a proper live show, and yet fine-tuned enough to sound like the record itself. The subtle differences make for a fine pairing. Indeed, it’s only taken one album for Moontype to hone a singular sound.
For now, with concerts coming back, the trio is planning to play additional live shows this year, but will start with outdoor concerts in its hometown of Chicago. They recently played outdoors in front of a small crowd, a welcome return to live music. “Playing live again was great. There are still some kinks to be ironed out after being out of practice performing, but it feels so good anyway,” McCarthy said. “The thing that stood out most was that audience connection that makes live performing so special. To feel that joy again was really restorative.”
Restorative is a fitting word, indeed, as one listens to the band’s complex-yet-rewarding music. BODIES OF WATER might remind you of the past, and it very well may make you dream of the future, but it always manages to bring up a wellspring of both sadness and joy at once. It all evens out, though: That’s restoration at work. There’s no telling what the future holds, but you can be sure of one thing: When you hear Moontype, you’ll know it right away.
You can check out BODIES OF WATER over on Bandcamp!