Ballet and hushed folk rock don’t converge very often, but Jordan Moser has been doing both— and filmmaking—for the past decade. Despite the seemingly unusual contrast, there are similarities between high-culture performative dance and minimalist songs with a late-night, searching feel: Both rely on nuance, an economy of movement and a certain deliberate approach. Moser has the musical angle figured out on Long Night, his first album for the Austin label Keeled Scales.
At 30 minutes long, it’s a concise record. There are just eight songs, all of which feature fellow Texan Molly Burch, with whom Moser has worked before (he made three of her videos). Their voices fit well together, and her contributions give the album an air of conversation, almost a give-and-take as she sweetens mournful lyrics with soft, whispery backing vocals and wordless harmonies. Moser sings on “The Devil” about a star-crossed relationship where expectations rarely intersect with reality: “Celestial bodies never align / How you need ‘em to,” he murmurs over spare electric guitar licks, distant tremolo and the taut snap of a brushed snare drum, while Burch echoes his voice on the refrain.
The divide between what is real and what is hoped for is a recurring theme. Dreams are “laid to waste on the rocks of human things” on “The Fool,” a rueful tune with gleaming, trebly electric guitar over a dusky acoustic part and skeletal bass that is as much felt as heard. With no drums, the song floats gently, tethered by Moser’s voice as he sings a melody with a vintage country & western feel. He shifts focus a bit on album closer “Road to Trouble,” where he muses on fate and inevitability. Piercing shards of pedal steel guitar open the song and then settle into slippery keening, augmented by skeletal electric guitar and Moser’s voice, which contains the barest hint of defiance. He sings the first half of the song alone, before Burch takes over lead vocals for a pair of verses. Her voice is subdued, but rich and full, and she matches Moser’s defiant air with a sliver of exasperation, as if she’s a long-suffering partner who’s heard his spiel about preordination one too many times before.
Sometimes albums full of songs with a similar tone suffer for it—a listener’s attention tends to wander after a while when everything sounds more or less the same. That’s not a problem on Long Night. Though the tunes don’t vary much in their palette, Moser excels at subtle variations in melody or accompaniment that sets each song apart from the others. The result is an album that is understated, but quietly vibrant and unexpectedly absorbing.