John Moods’ The Great Design celebrates retro pop with extreme care

John Moods‘ new album, The Great Design, is out today via Mansions and Millions.

Tracking the peaks and valleys of musical trends and their respective resurrections can be fascinating. For ever garage rock revival seeking to return the genre to its supposed roots there’s a fresh infatuation with a once-reviled pop style when a new generation reappraises what happened to that sound. Sure, there might not be anything new under the sun, but that doesn’t explain exactly why some specific scenes are unearthed and why others aren’t.

For example, take the resent resurgence in ‘80s adult contemporary pop. You could tie it to ascendency of The War on Drugs, but that band has mostly been interested in infusing their love for Tom Petty and Big Star with some jam band elements. The hints of Dire Straits are definitely there, but it’s mostly for additional flavor and not a primary element. Instead, we should examine the bands openly aping Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins, and Jesus Jones – strong male vocals, classic pop stylings, and just enough art school pretension to garner the attention and approval of music critics.

Because that’s exactly what John Moods injects into his music. On his third album, entitled The Great Design, he delivers smooth grown-up pop music packed with delightful textures and superb aesthetics. Released on Mansions and Millions, this project delivers layers of sonic ideas borrowed directly from pop radio in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, but while they sound quite familiar, they’re rendered with extreme care.

It all starts with the impeccable attention Moods pays to the moods of his music, as he provides crisp pop sensibilities and sharp production that feels warm and organic. He offers listeners an impeccable sonic purity and clarity that wholly engages the ears without overwhelming them. Nothing comes across as overwrought or over-the-top. Instead, he conjures up taut arrangements with dreamy underpinnings that completely held my attention for all eight songs.

To be sure, it helps that Moods has this gorgeous, elastic tenor capable of soaring high notes, clear falsetto, and fascinating phrasing. More importantly, he coats it in just the right amount of echo and reverb, which makes it easier to appreciate the nuances of his voice through the stacks. He also performs the bulk of the instrumentation on the record, which made me appreciate the sublime guitar tone he selected, especially in the supple lead lines enhance the melodies of each tune.

John Moods also makes The Great Design feel full and sumptuous but never bloated. The combination of deft bass licks and measured drumming anchor the project as a good rhythm section should, but they also possess their own life and personality. The album features a wealth of percussion flair, but it never dominates the mix or distracts from the overall heart of the song. He then melds together nuanced synth pads, artful keyboard fills, and just enough horn work to double-down on the overall ‘80s tone while also elevating it.

Anyone” kicks off the project by combining the sultry tones of Peter Gabriel’s “Red Rain” with the chill ambiance of Paul Simon’s Graceland. Moods adroitly avoids falling into cheap pastiche with a plaintive vocal treatment that’s equal parts pained lover and resolute pilgrim. With “Such a Thrill,” we’re gifted a groovy tune featuring a driving tempo, strident acoustic guitar strums, and scintillating swathes of synth sound effects. The sturdy drumming sells the song’s energy by keeping clear time and possessing an excellent penchant for drama, while the nimble guitar leads peak at just the right times. The title track anchors the second half of the album by setting up moods as a new-school troubadour who pays ample homage to his forebears. But instead of coming across as generic folk, the song evokes powerful charms by folding in layers of harmony vocals, subtle synth pads, and gentle electric guitar phrases atop sensitive string sections.

With every spin of The Great Design, the overarching artistry of John Moods increasingly impresses. His music bursts with talent and the ability to inject staid musical tropes with freshness and heft. He takes the comfortable ideas of vintage adult contemporary and fuses them with heart and depth so they’re updated for a new era of music fans who want more sincerity in their pop music. The album is earnest, mellow, and thoughtful, and the world needs more of this stuff right now.

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