Japhy’s Descent: Moon Noon Rising

Photo by Deon Doughty

Throughout the last few years in the Tempe music scene, many, many bands have come and gone or broken up or become different bands, but amidst all the change and growth Japhy’s Descent have remained, they have persevered to become a staple and have now emerged as a rock’n’roll force to be reckoned with. This isn’t hyperbole either, I’ve known people who would walk out of Japhy’s shows years ago who now I see at the front of the stage, raving and drooling. I thought they were crazy when they told me during the release of their EP that they would have an album, a double album no less, out by April. I also didn’t believe them, I thought their intentions were great, but I figured we would be waiting around a year for another release. Turns out, when the gentlemen of Japhy’s Descent say they are going to do something, come hell or high water, they do it. And they do it spectacularly. I could not have ever been prepared for what is found across the two discs of Moon Noon. What’s better, in listening to the band, listening to them grow, listening to them talk this album continually strikes me as a new beginning.

The concept for Moon Noon was inspired by the happenings that took place at last year’s Couchella event, held outside of town. “When the cops came and said we could  stay, but we couldn’t have a fire or use amplified music we knew we were going to stay all night,” Brian, bassist and producer said. “Anthony Fama [of Doctor Bones] shouted ‘We’re gonna’ party until Moon Noon!” This led to a night where local musicians found  themselves in the desert playing collaborative acoustic rock until dawn—which directly inspired the “Moon” side of  the  album. When Brian decided they needed to put out an EP last fall, Travis (vocals and guitar) made one thing perfectly clear “That’s fine, but we’re still doing the double album in April.” And so Travis, Brian, Martin (guitar/vocals) and James (drums/percussion/vocals) have done exactly that and they invited all their friends to join in as well.

The band, well really Travis when he was doing solo acoustic shows, named themselves after the pinnacle moment in Jack Kerouacs Dharma Bums, a moment where Jack Kerouac realizes that anything is possible with the support of the people he surrounded himself with and as Japhy Ryder comes running down the mountain like a billy goat, Kerouac understands he can do the same because he can’t fall off the mountain, Japhy (Gary Snyder in real life) is there with him and there is nothing to fear. This sentiment has guided Japhy’s Descent and seems to be the underlying theme on the first half of the album, in which their entire community of friends and supporters lent a hand  to make it all possible. “Music works the same way,” Brian said. “When you have muses in your life there is no fear, no reason to be worried.” The life and work of Kerouac also taught them to strike while the iron is hot. “He wrote about his spark while he had it,” Travis said. This urgency has possessed Japhy’s Descent to produce their new masterpiece.

Cover Artwork by Deon Doughty

Moon is the first disc, often referred to as the “acoustic” side, which is funny because it rocks harder than some folks full on electric efforts, but compared to Noon it comes off as the more acoustic of the two. It is a community affair featuring nearly twenty other local musicians on it. “The point was bringing in as many people as possible,” Brian pointed out. In doing so, what they have created is an amazing collaborative effort that plays out as a historic document of Tempe/Phoenix at its present, beautiful state. Moon is perhaps the more startling of the two discs, because it’s not the typical Japhy’s show you’ve come to know and love with twin searing guitars and Travis’ rough-hewn rock cum grunge vocals—what it is, is an amazing mix of country, folk, rock and even touches of hip hop influences across its nine songs. “Down On The Farm” opens the affair with a blues riff, harmonica, featuring cello by Allison Glabreath and in “Unlikely ways I’m absolutely doing fine these days,” which pretty much sums up the entire album, it’s a positive start recognizing the tenacity to spend way too long having way too much fun, again and again.  It also improves manifold on the version found from their debut. Following that auspicious start is “Footprints” which begins with studio chatter before heading into an acoustic version of an on stage rocker, which recalls memories of Soul Asylum if they had someone playing bongos in the background. “Ballad of Dean” is a different take on “Ballad” from last years Feedback EP, once more it’s a pretty far cry from being a ballad, but now the blues groove (slide guitar courtesy of Kevin Redlich and Banjo from Tristan DeDe) is served with authenticity and the two minute build up before a word is uttered is wonderfully hypnotic. The real twist here is when Kalen Lander (TKLB?, Rolling Blackouts) comes in and  delivers his rap and blows your mind, this reprises at the end with equal effect. “Breathe in the smoke.”

“December” is another classic acoustic rocker that the likes of Dave Pirner and Dan Murphy would kill for—it has the perfect blend of country and blues tinged rock’n’roll to keep rolling through your head on days when you walk down the street alone. The second time I ever heard “Train Station Apparitions,” I was actually at the train station, listening to the music and watching all the people who seemed so lost, the lyrics were haunting as it seemed to documenting the scene that unfolded in front of me, “We’re afraid of what we’re going to be, ashamed of who we are, I can’t explain my stranger company, consider all of this a test of who we are.” The addition of Kelli Watkins amazing vocals makes this one of the most gripping and moving tracks on the entire album. “Obscene” is very nearly as hard rocking as an acoustic number can get and it features an all star cast including Trevor Denton on keys, Mike Vigil on rainstick, Calin Gross on lap steel and The Judge on guitar. This was another number that appeared on there debut that is left in the dust by the 2012 version.

For however many guests the other songs have featured “The Bird” has no less than ten guest musicians on it, granted, most are offering vocals in chanting to a drinking song that should become a sing-a-long standard in every bar in America and  maybe something Flogging Molly should consider covering. Kevin Lloyd of Banana Gun offers banjo, while the vocals feature Deon Doughty, Jessica Knowles, Kalen Lander, Marc Norman, Mary Essenberg, Rhian Scotts, Tiffany Helvie, Tristan DeDe and many others. “Tapped Out” will always sound like a finale to me, mostly because it finished the Feedback EP, but also because it’s the perfect closer about reflection at the end of the night as you make your way out of the bar and “wave goodbye to our friends,” on the Moon version it becomes genuinely anthemic especially with the additional vocals of Marc Norman, which were apparently added the night before the album was sent off for mastering. Moon finishes with “Waiting Room”, which features cowbell by Zoe Wright, brings the first half of this album to a close with a classic, signature Japhy’s tune, that serves more as a segue into the next half rather than the true closer of this disc, gearing from acoustic to a whirlind, hurricane jam in the end, it prepares the listener nicely for what awaits them on Noon.  

Noon is the side of  the record in which Japhy’s Descent really shows off their rock’n’roll chops—while Moon was about community and great many-layered arrangements, Noon is Travis, Martin, James and Brian just letting it rip, plugged in and roaring. This is, truth be told, what they are best known for in this town and they do it better than they’ve ever done before. With the killer start off of “Howards Arrival” the band pulls out of the starting gate full throttle, “I cannot tell the truth between the lies, burning bright, but not enough.” Immediately the twin guitar attack of Martin and Travis is simply searing, the rhythm of Brian’s bass and James’ pounding drums are overwhelming. Hello, rock’n’roll. “Electric Cool-Aid” follows in its wake which is another monstrous guitar number, here Travis’ vocals seem damned near possessed and he seems to take his singing to the next level. “Red Flags” was one of my favorites from the EP and it remains here unchanged, as it plays around with the sound of a down home jam that touches a bit on the Southern Fried fantasy with guitar picking and grinning for miles, it would still make a great, albeit unusual, second single.

“Name” is positively, explosive after the “Red Flags.” Lyrically it seems to recount a last night stand where at least one side of the fence wants more from the event than the other, “Hope she’s there  this weekend, thought you’d give her one last call…you told me that you love me, but baby they were only just words…tell me how I know you, when I don’t even know your name.” Now, that’s rock’n’roll that is as incendiary on stage as it is on the record. One of my new favorite songs is “Lucid Limits,” I know this because my brain will play it for me at random hours of the day or night—it’s another number where they’re not necessarily rocking out to the limit, but they’ve caught a damn good hook: “Don’t waste our time, our ass is on the line…” which begins a brilliant refrain fuelled primarily by James’ almost marching band drumming. “Answer 42” is perfectly and thankfully preserved exactly as it was from Feedback and at the time I said it was “easily the best song Japhy’s has ever written, recorded or otherwise released to the world.” This was true last December. Turns out they’ve put out or reworked 19 other numbers to blow your mind since then and this one still sounds so damn fine it blows my mind every time.

The opening salvo of “Session Seven” reveals the energy of the entire song that awaits the listening, another new favorite—I’m a sucker for a rock’n’roll singer singing about singing about rock’n’roll singing.. Whether Travis is transposing his own introspection to the second person or recounting his perspective on someone else is unclear, but it’s a thoroughly brilliant analysis either way. “Ghost” is a live favorite and a classic Japhy’s tune, at least in the last year or so, that leaves everyone sweaty from dancing and it’s another highlight here, with all the vibrations intact that it broadcasts on stage, only on the record you understand the undeniably clever lyrics. In a slightly softer vein, “Notes For Natalie” delivers just as much punch without as much volume and so much more sentimentality. Another favorite, but this time it’s because the  topic isn’t about lies or transparency, but about the hope of growth with a love one and the chorus is absolutely killer.

“Vampires” is a fast pace thriller that cruises with shotgun vocals, searing guitars and pounding rhythms at breakneck speed. It’s a brilliant delivery with “All we have left is our voice” being the refrain, before it slows down for a moment into a bluesy, hazy moment, “She lays me down and swears everything is fine, it’s gonna’ be alright…” and then it comes back around to kick your ass all over again. Brilliant. Coming full circle Moon Noon ends where Just A Peak began, completely reworked and re-envisioned, it, like the others from the  first album revisited here, goes far beyond the original and makes you realize that this current lineup of Japhy’s Descent is the most potent, perfect and promising yet. In the end when the song slows down to a Zeppelin jamming blues groove before exploding once more is simply inspired and top notch. It provides the perfect conclusion to the album, this monolithic masterpiece that gets better with each listen. You want something that rocks you hard and beautiful all summer long? Go get yourself some Moon Noon, you won’t be sorry you did. I know it’s travelling with me no matter where I go this year, because it feels that good on my ears and it reverberates my soul.

Check Out Japhy’s Descent On ReverbNation Here!

Buy Moon Noon On CD Baby Here!

(Note: An edited version of this article appeared in the June issue of JAVA Magazine)