Parsing Under The Borrowed Moon by The Mascot Theory is a bit like deciding you want your eggs over easy after they've already been scrambled. Singer-songwriter Erik Kjelland and his Mascot bandmates start off with Greek mythology, end with a nod to traditional gospel, and just in case we're not paying attention, toss in a few subtle tributes to some of the giants of popular music.
To point to the elephant in the room: Yes, Kjelland drew on personal losses as the inspiration for Moon, but the disc is anything but melancholy. “Everything Left to Lose” and “Meet Your Maker” are the linchpins for the emotional tone evoked by the album as a whole, but interestingly, they also are the two most literal efforts on the disc. The former is an anguished plea – too late – to a former bandmate who took his own life. The latter, a celebration of Kjelland's late grandmother, amply demonstrates that the songwriter comes by his mordant wit naturally: The pensive apple doesn't fall far from the giving tree.
Along the way from one of the Greek underworlds – not the best one, mind you – the band stays deceptively exuberant until “Time to Move On (War Waltz),” an anthemic waltz, if there is such a thing, that recalls early Lyle Lovett at his best. The astute listener will notice that the next track, “Part-Time Valentine,” immediately undercuts the expectation of a meaningless one-night stand, since this one appears to be occurring on the eve of Armageddon. Part-time, indeed.
“Like Babel Coming Down” keeps the listener upbeat – what the hey, it's just the end of the world – and then TMT explodes the mood balloon with the heartfelt “Everything Left To Lose,” a song that exemplifies evocative country music without the maudlin self-pity that creeps into so much music in that genre.
“Everything” is followed by “All Because of You” a country rocker that calls up the ghost of “Paperback Writer” with an even darker edge. The next track, “Facedown,” keeps us in the same general country-rock neighborhood as it recalls the Stones in their “Wild Horses” and “Dead Flowers” mode, with some gospel tossed in for good measure. Kjelland and Jagger-Richards would appear to share some of the same sensibilities lyric- and music-wise, if not the same perspective on spirituality.
The disc wraps up with the aforementioned “Meet Your Maker,” a fitting way to anchor Under The Borrowed Moon. Moon is a coherent effort that pulls together disparate musical elements – there are even some guitar licks that David Gilmour would be proud to claim – while emphatically avoiding the chameleon syndrome.
If you're looking for a downer album about death, loss, the afterlife, or even love in the apocalypse, look elsewhere. If you prefer to look on the bright side of the dark side, stick around – you're gonna like it here.
The Mascot Theory is: Erik Kjelland • lead vocals, acoustic guitar, harmonica Nick Fry • upright bass, vocals Adam White • electric guitar, vocals Paul Metz • drums, percussion, vocals
Other musicians: Mark Oberfoell • steel guitar, banjo, mandolin (tracks 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 9) Art Ranney • mandolin (track 6) Kenny Leiser • violin, fiddle (tracks 3, 6, 7, 8)
Produced by The Mascot Theory. Recorded and mixed by Luke Jorgensen. Additional recording by Erik Kjelland at Moondog Studio (Madison, WI) and by Art Ranney at Phoenix Pharm Studio (Platteville, WI).
Mastered by Winterland Studios (Minneapolis, MN). Album packaging designed by Noon:30 Design using textile artwork from artist Emelia Haglund, emeliaeh.com