Defining a band’s sound is a tricky, complicated area. My usual first instinct, when the subject comes up, is to dismiss the idea entirely, declaring that a band doesn’t need a “sound”, they just need to play whatever’s in their heart. That wonderfully libertarian sentiment, however, is largely crap. Why? Well, because the absolute best bands, if you take a survey of ’em, do have a “sound” — I don’t mean to say that every song sounds exactly the same or anything like that, but that there’s always some common thread that ties it all together. The Rolling Stones, for example, aren’t ever going to be mistaken for anything other than the Rolling Stones, no matter how often I wish they could go back to the days of “Paint It Black”; they are who they are, and it comes through in the music. On the other side of the coin are genre-hopping, ultra-eclectic bands who try to take in everything and make it theirs — an admirable notion, but ultimately very difficult to do. It takes talented musicians to digest and incorporate a whole bunch of styles, and sure, there’re folks who can pull it off but, more often than not, bands that skip from ska to punk to electronica to blues from track to track just lose the listener (or, at the very least, me).
Now, to relate this to the album at hand, let’s take a look at Moviola in the light of the stuff above. These four talented Columbus, Ohio boys do indeed throw in a variety of styles (although not quite as bizarre as the exaggerated list given previously). The key, though, is that they sound so absolutely sincere, like they just plain love playing music, and that they can tie it all together and call it their own. That’s how Rumors of the Faithful can manage to slap tracks like the jangly ’60s-style folk-country on “Oregonia” down in between a melancholy, accordion-tinged barroom waltz like “John Taylor Train” and the more straight-ahead pop-rock of “This Conversation”. Whether the band’s music harks back to Creedence Clearwater Revival (the title track), mournful Appalachian blues (the beautiful “Misdirected Brother”, which wouldn’t’ve sounded out of place on the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack), or Matthew Sweet-esque rock (“Covers and Pages”), it’s all Moviola, and that’s a pretty major feat. Part of this has to do with the subject matter, obviously, because it sounds like a general theme of displacement and exile runs throughout. The songs have to do with being apart from loved ones, leaving home for someplace new, and losing your childhood to the dusty pages of memory, all topics that the band tackles with remarkable emotion. It’s a rare album that can make me nostalgic for a childhood or home that’s not mine.
With that little bit of philosophizing out of the way, I guess I’d better get to what Rumors of the Faithful actually sounds like… Oddly enough, beyond the tracks mentioned earlier, the comparison that comes to mind most often is to Teenage Fanclub’s Songs from Northern Britain — if TF had indulged their occasional country tendencies a bit more, that is. Add to that a couple of tracks that get more dreamy and spacey, like “October Leaves”, which features beautiful guest vocals by Scrawl’s Marcy Mays, and reminds me of Mojave 3’s Ask Me Tomorrow. Along with the pop stuff, of course, the CD hits a lot of country-rock touchstones, particularly The Jayhawks — which makes some sense when you consider Moviola’s solid Midwestern base (all the members of the band work at Ohio State, for crying out loud) — but also classic “Southern rock” groups like CCR, The Black Crowes and the Allmans. All in all, Rumors is a pretty far-reaching slice of American roots-rock music, despite the British-ness of some of the comparisons here (’cause, hey, those Brits got the music from us Americans anyway, right?), and a good step above most of that sort of thing.