In the family of modern jam bands, the upstate New York band moe. has always been something of the underachieving little brother on Ritalin. The band has attracted a loyal following with their unique brand of insanely fast, solo-based jam rock, but they have never quite attained the popularity or sales of their brethren Phish or the Dave Matthews Band. However, all this could change with the release of “Dither,” the band’s third major-label studio release.
“Dither” explores the realm of pop without selling its soul to TRL, unlike the recently released Dave Matthews “Band” record. These songs have a studio-polished sound that was noticeably absent on moe.’s previous albums. Only three of the record’s 12 tracks cross the five-minute limit; most of the songs abandon the lengthy solos that have become the band’s trademark in order to achieve radio-friendly conciseness.
More importantly, “Dither” marks a turning point for the typical moe. style that has developed since the band’s formation in 1991. Gone is the Lynyrd Skynyrd-on-speed soloing of duel lead guitarists Al Schnier and Chuck Garvey and the constant switching between different time signatures and keys; in its place, moe. has found a slower groove that fits them surprisingly well. Songs like “New York City” and a cover of the 1980s hit “In a Big Country” are more relaxed and melodic than anything the band has recorded to date. On “Water,” the album’s standout track, this new style reaches its zenith with a laid-back guitar lick that is nothing short of mesmerizing. The band even experiments with turntables and keyboards on the longtime live favorite “Captain America,” giving the track a funky new feel.
Will this new album bring moe. into the pop mainstream? Possibly. Will some fans be angered by this break from the band’s traditional style? Likely. But has moe. created their finest studio album to date? Most definitely. Change is not always good, especially in the realm of jam rock. However, “Dither” manages to open itself to a larger audience without sacrificing the underground credibility the band has worked so hard to gain.
Moe. is playing in New Haven Sunday night at the Palace Theater at 8 p.m.