At its worst, Moonlight Girls is a sleepy, predictable slab of alt-country heartbreak songs. But luckily the debut album from this four-piece demonstrates enough melodic chops and vocal aplomb to elevate it to something more interesting.
Nick Leet (formerly of Standard Thompson) is the primary songwriter, and he comes up with some lyrical nuggets, as on the opening track, "You Have Conversations with Jesus." "You're a freight train with understated makeup," Leet sings of a former girlfriend. The clever, enigmatic lyrics of "Eyeliner Blues" provide evidence that the band's been taking notes while listening to their Paul Westerberg records. "Cash Machine" is the catchiest track here, with its shout-along chorus, reminiscent of A.M.-era Wilco.
High on Stress make rare, but effective use of the distortion pedal, putting a felicitous charge into tracks such as "Postcard that Says Breathe." There are other welcome, unexpected flourishes throughout, like the organ jam at the close of "Sleeping in the Backs of Cars" and the banjo fills (courtesy of guest Mike Brady) on "1995."
But the track that puts this album over for me is "Minot," an irresistible poison-pen Valentine to North Dakota. "This is an ode to cover bands, and bad punk rock, and a town I can't stand," Leet snipes. More than a few small-town transplants will find the sentiment familiar.
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