HUMAN HIGHWAY – Moody Motorcycle

Secret City

• A rocker and an Island pay tribute to ’50s and ’60s pop.

The quality of a musical collaboration is determined by the interplay of two factors — the unique elements each artist brings to the table and the extent to which they are able to work together to find a middle ground. Nick Thorburn and Jim Guthrie’s Human Highway excels on both fronts.

Thorburn’s work with Islands and The Unicorns has earned him a reputation as one of the nation’s quirkiest and most talented songsmiths. Erstwhile Islands helping-hand Guthrie offers flawlessly flawed vocals and oh-so-jingle-friendly folk sensibilities. The pair borrowed their name from Neil Young’s ill-advised 1982 foray into filmmaking (which features among other oddities several extended dream-jam sequences with Devo). Although Guthrie says the name has no special significance aside from that “it felt right we love alliterations and it struck us as ‘poetic’” it does fit in with Thorburn’s recent habit of giving exaggerated winks to his influences. Still Moody Motorcycle has little in the way of outright homage preferring to pay stylistic tribute to the gentle subdued pop of the mid-20th century.

The album starts out strong with “The Sound” an energetic romp that flirts coyly with the style and cadence of Guthrie’s ubiquitous “Hands in my Pockets” jingle. Interestingly “The Sound” is the only co-write. Lilting forward at an easy-going pace the duo harmonizes beautifully creating a series of delightful multi-layered songs swapping writing duties pretty much track-to-track. Then on the heels of the lullaby-like “Sleep Talking” the Guthrie-penned title track features the album’s catchiest groove alongside hook-heavy guitar synth and vocal lines.

The remainder never quite reaches the same intensity in spite of highlights like the Thorburn gem “Pretty Hair” but the downhill coast isn’t necessarily for the worse. Whereas Islands’ recent Arm’s Way tended towards the epic at every opportunity — a move that proved divisive for fans and critics alike — Moody Motorcycle flows elegantly towards and away from the single decisive climax making the album less of a hodgepodge of great moments and more a cohesive digestible work.