I’ve picked Cruel Child by Viking Moses as my Blind Taste Test for a few reasons.
The simplest of those, is that I fucking love this album.
The second, though, is that I think there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy it too. From what I know of your tastes, you enjoy a bit of pared back acoustic music, an interesting and unique voice, and a playful way with words. Viking Moses has all of these.
Finally, I also know that Viking has the ability to grab someone on a single listen. As that what he did for me. I saw him in a support slot at The Trades Club and I was so blown away that I don’t even remember who the main act was.
Fingers crossed you have a similar reaction after a single listen to Cruel Child. We shall see.
‘Cruel Child’ kicks off with its title song. There is a sort of muffled drum and a sparse guitar. The lead singer of Viking Moses (Viking Moses himself, I’m presuming) is front and centre. He sounds a bit like a country Nick Cave. He’s “chasing dreams like pennies down the drain.” The song lives and dies on whether you like Viking Moses’ voice or not. I’m on the fence at the end of the first song.
‘Fool for the Flame’ next. Again, the music feels sparse (there is a bit of electric guitar, sort of Cure-like synths intended to sound like strings) – I wonder if Viking Moses is a one-man band. Is he playing everything? Vocally, he is either doing a sort of Matt Berninger-like spoken word delivery or keening like a wounded wolf. I prefer the spoken word delivery to the keening.
Crunchy blues riffage opens track 3, ‘Pretty Little Eyes’. It sounds like a Roky Erickson or a Peter Case or a Grant Lee Buffalo number and qualifies as the first song that I pretty much like out of the gates. I’m starting to get a sense of Viking Moses’ standard delivery – when he holds a line, I’m with him; when he starts to stretch his range, he doesn’t always take me with him. ‘Pretty Little Eyes’ firmly qualifies as a solid not bad on first listen though.
‘Let This Trouble Pass’ immediately makes me think of The National’s Trouble Will Find Me. Although Viking Moses seems a bit more country then The National, there does feel like a kinship (if the National are a city band, Viking Moses would be his rural cousin). The comparison doesn’t entirely do Viking Moses a favour because he doesn’t have a Bryce Dessner in his camp, able to make incredible sounds with his guitar. The instrumentation here is quite sparse and moments that feel almost acapella. Lyrically, he likes to build and repeat a singular refrain.
‘In Servitude’ opens with a clang of instrumentation which is then pared back to what sounds like a Neil Young pump organ and a teensy bit of guitar. The song has a sort of dark country vibe a la REM’s Oddfellows Local. Given that this is about the midpoint of the record, I feel like I can hazard a judgement at this point that Viking Moses doesn’t really do songs you’ll be whistling afterwards. On ‘In Servitude’ he’s kind of wailing over a drone. It feels (a little) like you have to be in servitude to listen to ‘In Servitude’. I think Country Nick Cave again.
Things pick up again with ‘Headstrong’, which throws a bit of light among the shade and also clocks in at about half the length of the other songs – brevity helps Viking Moses. (If you’re wondering whether Viking Moses is for you, I’d recommend starting with ‘Headstrong’). ‘Surrounding Skin’ follows and is also not bad. Viking Moses has a habit of pushing all of the instrumentation away when he is singing so that there is a wave-like component to songs. By which we mean to say: it’s like the vocals and the lyrics determine the music and not the other way around.
‘Kid for the cattle’ brings forth that sense of Viking Moses ploughing a lonely cowboy furrow again. I feel like I’m listening to one of the hands from Yellowstone, singing of his woes in the deadtime before Kevin Costner orders him to go and, you know, throw a dead body off a cliff or something. ‘Kid for the Cattle’ has an echo of Dire Straits ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in its guitar line. Not sure if this is a good or bad thing.
‘The Killing Kind’ comes next. Viking Moses seems particularly excised on this one. I’m starting to feel like he’s a bit of a moaner. I’m pointedly not looking but I do sort of feel like Viking Moses is, as I said earlier, a one man operation. It feels like he needs a bit of collaboration to jump start his songs. On ‘Rough Rider’, it feels like there is a song building behind him (actual drums! Guitar!) but they are low in the mix compared with his voice. I feel like I’m being told to love his voice first and foremost but I don’t love his voice and the prominence it’s given makes me niggle with lyrics. Play me a song I want to say. I want to hear something that – if you took the vocals away – would stand up on its own as something deserving of my time. I’m not hearing that.
We’re in the final straits now. ‘A World So Full of Love’ sounds like a Noah and the Whale song stretched tight like buffalo hide to dry out in the sun. ‘Take Tender’ closes things out. It sounds a little like an old Green on Red bside. I mentally check out when he starts wailing and then we are done. I’m reminded of what Bono apparently once said to Brian Eno – any time a singer isn’t singing is a void to the singer. Viking Moses feels like a singer howling in that void. I do think there is promise here. He’s interesting no doubt. I just think he needs to wind his neck in a bit. Vocals lower in the mix. More solid tunes, with instrumentation higher in the mix. All told, I’m not completely convinced by Cruel Child but I’d be willing to give a listen to something else by Viking Moses in the future.
Words by Pete Wild and Fran Slater