Explorations in Madness
In early 2000, Matt Farley and Tom Scalzo of Moes Haven got together in Farley's dorm room to begin work on EXPLORATIONS IN MADNESS. The two senior English majors at Providence College had discussed their dream of making the ultimate concept album since they met in 1996. Now they were finally getting to work. Little did they know at the time, it would take another five years before they deemed the work complete. This dark, beautiful, confusing, complex album is the result of painstakingly intricate work by two dedicated artists. Best known for their more straightforward acoustic folk/rock, Moes Haven shows with the release of each new album that they are willing to tackle a multitude of musical styles. In EXPLORATIONS, we're shown a side of the band that perhaps only they knew they were capable of. But getting this album finished seemed, at times, impossible. The first version, recorded during three months of sessions in 2000, clocked in at 90 minutes and was in serious need of editing and reworking. "We didn't know what we were doing at the time," says Scalzo. "We were making it up as we went along. It came out pretty well, considering how young we were." Indeed it did. In fact, two tracks from this final draft of the album are taken directly from the original 2000 recording. Two other songs, "Rock 'n' Roll Jeopardy" and "Infanticide" contain elements from the original recordings, with other instruments and vocals added later. The rest of the songs were rewritten and rerecorded in the years since that first album was put together. "It's not something we worked on directly all these years," explains Farley. "But we were always thinking about it. When the time was right, we'd sit down and work on a song here, a song there, tinkering with them, tweaking them until they were perfect." EXPLORATIONS IN MADNESS is a concept album that avoids the traps that have doomed so many others. Each song flows into the next-but they do not merely serve the album; they stand up as great songs on their own. Moes Haven managed to make this album cohesive, but not repetitive. (Surely the original 90-minute version suffered from repetition, but at a mere 43 minutes, this version contains nary an unnecessary moment.) There are common themes that run throughout the work. But it's not bogged down with a complicated story. There is no story. It's just a collection of songs that are meant to be listened to together: the perfect concept album. What's the message? What are the themes? Well, as the title suggests, these songs delve into the dark, crazy side of human existence, but with a Moes Haven twist. Known for employing humor in even their saddest songs, Farley and Scalzo are not afraid to invoke laughter in an album about madness. This time, though, it's the scary kind of shrieking laughter one might here echoing through the halls of a mental institution. All the standard themes are here: love, death, guilt, sadness, insanity, sleep, murder, etc. These themes are handled in a way that is anything but straightforward by two very literary songwriters who will keep English majors up nights, marveling at their complex, intriguing lyrics. You don't need to analyze this, though. Just turn off the lights, put on your headphones and let Moes Haven take you away for a while. You won't come back the same.