Back in October, multi-instrumentalist Elliot Moss dropped “Barricade” – the first single from his latest album A Change In Diet. On first listen “Barricade” is exactly what you’d expect from the up-and-coming singer-songwriter living in a seemingly self-imposed exile since his last release. The track is anxious and isolating with each sound crafted by Moss sounding like it’s coming from him simultaneously, mixed together by himself to feel alienating and featuring cascading multi-tracked vocals that impose themselves on the listener as both distinct from each other and definitively Moss’. “Barricade” is a strong first single in the traditional sense, not simply in that it is one of the catchier and stronger cuts here or because of its familiarity to Moss’ previous work but because of how well it encapsulates the main overriding themes of A Change In Diet. Throughout the album Moss focuses on not just insecurity and anxiety but insomnia, heartbreak and aimlessness, to the point where the disparate images and messages for each song seem to trace back to “Barricades” as the soundtrack to the new album’s gestation.
Elliot Moss hails from New York City – his home base since graduating high school and where he’s written, produced and performed his releases up to this point. Since his last release, the longish EP Boomerang in 2017, Moss has kept quiet on social media and with the press. It wasn’t until the release of “Barricade” that we got an idea for both the sound of his new project and a release date. Despite the lead single harkening back to his previous work in an attempt to bridge the gap, Moss has become more consistent and professional with his experience. The tracks here prove to be more experimental too, with a significant and necessary focus on instrumental arrangements and sound mixing that was less prevalent in Moss’ previous output. What is lacking on A Change In Diet is divergent subject matter.
Moss has proven he can write a love song or at least his type of love song, and there are plenty of them scattered across his discography and taking up the bulk of this new record, but on the few songs here that attempt loftier terrain, he seems lost, either faltering with clichés or rehashing familiar topics. Now, no one can blame Moss for writing a love-centric album after a tough breakup, but one can certainly fault him for letting his writing wander unrestrained. If there is an overarching theme for this album that helps guide that pathos, it’s his struggles with mental health.
Depression, anxiety and loneliness all find themselves to be among the more compelling moments on A Change In Diet but when Moss focuses on hope as a refrain he loses touch of his ingenuity. “In The Same Place” and “Dogcatcher” both yield some interesting imagery, comparing dogs to sirloin beef and with their minor connections to other songs on the album, but Moss falls back on simply eliciting dreams of leaving behind his life or riding on trains, those ideas coming off as more borrowed than personal. The music itself isn’t as scattershot; Moss consistently overshadows his lyrical ability with a deft touch at vocal modification, distorted instrumentation and a genuine knack for mixing. The songs here are crisp and layered, revealing more on each listen than most synth-pop albums even try.
The first track here, “July 4” sets the pace with a discordant rippling across various synths that slowly reveals a gradual build and nicely placed acoustic guitar the gives the song some more depth. The vocal effects on this song bring to mind the androgyny of ANOHNI, with the same gravitas of that high caliber musicianship. Elsewhere on the album, like on “Smile In The Rain”, Moss’ untreated vocals provide a beautiful combination of both Justin Vernon and James Vincent McMorrow. It’s one of his greatest attributes and only makes it more compelling that he takes the risk of covering it up, and pulls it off. Similarly, “Untroubled Mind” features Moss not only use his voice as a refrain against his own chorus but reverberates the end of each verse over and over until the echo blends into the beat. Effects like that, manipulating the same vocal passages and carefully placing them through the songs, help create a ghostly reminder that despite the seeming plurality of voices, he is all alone.
Throughout the album, Moss attempts to keep the sound from remaining too stagnant. On “Bodyintoshapes”, a nice little call back to the refrain on “July 4”, Moss tries his hand at a sex-fueled club track but keeps it infused with enough melancholy to keep anyone from really wanting to dance to it. Later on the standout “Rabbit Roads”, 80s pop synths help bring a levity that cleverly borrows from Peter Gabriel. It’s a fun and catchy song that slowly unravels into a more typically somber cut that remains just as compelling. The album continues from there, evoking the scattered personal conflicts of the last three years for Moss, and proving that if anything sets apart this record from the rest of his oeuvre it’s his unbridled sincerity in the face of personal crisis.
A Change In Diet may have its faults, but it nonetheless it is a measurable improvement over what came before. As an album that clearly denotes the kind of musician Elliot Moss is, it also leaves room for the growth of his next project – one that’s certainly worth listening too.