The Big Heist steals our hearts, minds and souls with debut MO75
As Horatio Alger once said
“I gave up my room on 34th St. because I had too many young callers who were unwelcome… For this reason please don’t tell them where I am.”
Horatio Alger Jr. was a writer in New England in the 1800s who popularised the rags to riches story in America. His writings have become intrinsically linked with the American dream and the notion of “work hard and you’ll get somewhere”. I had always heard the name Horatio Alger in this inspiring context and had hoped to find some literary quotes to match this mythology that has grown up around the man. Sadly I could find none. Even more disconcerting were the biographies I found that indicated he was, mostly, a big child molesting, racist fraud.
It’s funny because I wanted to use a Horatio Alger quote at the start of this review for one reason - the inspiration, the work ethos, the Americana vibe - but now it neatly plays into one of the other genius aspects of Matt Farley’s, Motern Media’s and The Big Heist’s philosophy: In the end, believe nothing, it’s all just stories and marketing. Matt Farley used to want a statue of himself but has since stated, who on earth would measure up to the permanence and longevity of a statue? We are all fallible. Motern Media has one thing on its side, however, and that’s truth in advertising - as any who have listened to the podcast can attest to.
To condense the Motern Media and Matt Farley phenomenon into a sentence is difficult. The man has written close to 20,000 songs, appeared on the tonight show, gained some cult internet celebrity, makes movies, hosts a long running podcast and every year hosts a 5 hour plus concert (or extravaganza) where his disparate fans from around the world gather to listen to music, meet each other, hang out, dance with the Riverbeast and drink the state drink of Rhode Island, coffee milk.
The best way to truly understand the man is listen to his podcast, go to his website, watch Local Legends on Amazon Prime or read this article I wrote about him ages ago. To spend any more time explaining the lead up to The Big Heist’s debut album MO75 would be to do it a disservice as it stands alone as a towering musical achievement even when not in context with Matt Farley’s other great achievements. Blood on the Tracks, for example, which is debatably not as good as MO75 Volumes 1, 2 & 3, benefits nothing from knowing Bob Dylan’s history or his phony cultivated persona.
The Big Heist doesn’t have any phony cultivated personas (except maybe the ones they occasionally play as a joke or spoof of celebrity personas). I said it before but the ethos is one of “truth in advertising” which is why the album cover, for example, is just four average looking guys in sort-of dorky clothes - although bassist Pete has pointed out he’s not wearing shoes, which is very Rock ‘n’ Roll and also, by its distinct lack of affectation it is more daring, more honest, more anarchic and definitely more Rock ‘n’ Roll than any cultivated, purposefully arty album cover.
The four men next to that, now, immortal MO75 rock are Matt Farley on keyboards, guitars and vocals, Chris "Pete" Peterson on bass and vocals, Tom Scalzo on lead guitar, vocals, and additional guitar parts and Doug "Frog" Brennan on drums, guitars and vocals. The powerful foursome are a mixture of school, high school and college friends, all of whom have been playing together in one band or other for years and years. Combining their mighty talents in 2018 they took on the monumentally epic task of composing and recording not just one album but a triple album. Most bands maybe tackle the illusive triple album when success, excess and insanity takes hold but The Big Heist, so confident at this point of their abilities and always looking to defy expectations, produced one as their auspicious debut.
Matt Farley and his band mates are artists who defy a lot of expectations and social assumptions.
The tortured artist stereotype? phony baloney - these hard rockers are all clean cut, family men who are heading into middle age.
All great bands come from the major cities? What a lot of nonsense! - these song writing titans, with their universal themes, all hail from rural or suburban areas in New England, New York State and Florida.
You need a record company behind you? Don’t believe it! - these homegrown musical heroes are doing it for themselves on the world wide web. All those, so-called, rebellious, anarchic rockstars you probably idolise? you know of them because they are part of the record company machine, with millions of dollars of advertising and radio play behind them. Not that there’s anything wrong with that but mavericks they are not, they are company men through and through. You want true authenticity? Listen to The Big Heist.
MO75 Volumes 1,2 & 3 essentially tell the story of one halcyon summer in the life of a group of friends who hold an epic party in the woods and all the anticipation, excitement and nostalgia that comes with that. It may sound coy: Four New England raised, family men write an album about the exuberance, promise and failure of youth but throughout the 48 songs and the 2 1/2hr running time The Big Heist manage to cover the range of human emotions and experiences in a way that most other bands or singer-songwriters don’t. This isn’t the detached, commercial, triteness of The Beatles’ “I Want To Hold Your Hand” or the overly simplistic and shallow blathering of Miley Cyrus’s “Wrecking Ball” (if you want a more modern reference), this is deep, personal, reflective celebrations of the minutiae of human interaction from a time in life where every moment matters. When the album does get simple and explores a basic theme, it does so with a plaintive earnestness that evokes feelings and ideas way beyond just the lyrics.
While you may think that music made in the suburbs of Massachusetts about specific, American, late teen experiences may not resonate with people of other ages, states or countries, the songs of MO75 actually transcend their story to touch a nerve with any and all people. Where a critically praised album like The Kinks’ Village Green Preservation Society is not only resolutely English and really just about random, nostalgic “stuff” - the iconography and the presumed loss of persona of a country - the critically ignored, MO75 is an album anyone can listen and relate to while maintaining some of the mystery and Americana from whence it came. It’s both a lamenting that those times will never come again and a hopeful cry to the children of today that, sometimes, there is nothing better than just messing around in the woods.
Despite the subject matter and the presumed, traditional, rock, make-up of the band’s musicians, the music of MO75 is anything but predictable. Much like The Beatles’ White Album (only obviously better and less messy) the songs are a varied mix of multiple genres. The Big Heist are all multi-instrumentalists who, individually, have different tastes and as this triple collection is a true collaboration, you get elements of rock, folk, pop, rap, punk, grunge and singer-songwriter woven throughout its running time. This keeps the experience of listening to the three volumes back to back consistently exciting and invigorating.
Some of the stand-out tracks are:
The Longest Day - MO75’s assured and exemplary opening track lays the incredible groundwork for the rest of the collection. Matt Farley’s lyrical dexterity and tremendous lead vocal plays over a tight, catchy, pop, rock backing that gives every musician a time to shine. You’d think an opener this good would lead to expectations that could never be met in the following 47 tracks but luckily The Big Heist are just getting started and have some fantastic tricks up their sleeves!
Crossroads - From the opening indie rock bars to the distorted punk vocals, Crossroads shouts from the rooftops that you underestimate The Big Heist at your peril. This album has something for everyone and this is the first indication that the music can go anywhere the band wants it to, the audience just needs to hold tight and go for this exhilarating ride.
Devil on My Side - is the best Rolling Stones song of the last 30 years and they didn’t even write or record it - Matt Farley and The Big Heist did and without the use of any illegal substances or stimulants except Coffee Milk!! Take that Jagger and Richards!
MO75 - The album’s title track, with its prog-rock leanings and its dreamy, psychedelic, winding melody accented by some superb organ, guitar and bass work, is the epic anthem that our generation has been looking for.
All Set - the funky, bass driven, grungy opening to Vol.2 lets the listener know that The Big Heist has no intention of resting on their laurels and instead, throughout Vol.2 they’re going to further explore their abilities and musical genres. Farley’s lyrics get raunchy and anarchic in an eye widening and thrilling way, it turns out The Big Heist can do bad better than most!
Wild Child - Man this album is so good, I could sing the praises of every track but the bass, insistent, funk drumming and lead guitar of this groovy, garage band oddity demands attention.
Skin of My Teeth - is worth a mention as The Big Heist go gospel! but also for Farley’s energetic and awesome piano/organ work.
Rested and Tanned - now I’m just listening to and listing every song because every track is all you’ve wanted from an album for your whole life. This banjo and jangly piano infused foot stomper gives all the rootsy, folksy Mumford & Son, vest wearing, posers out there a run for their money!
Chopping The Bop - there was a time in the music world where you were nobody if you didn’t have a dance craze song. From twist & shout to the Macarena, artists have been wrestling with the complexities of promoting a dance craze, writing a danceable, upbeat tune but making the song actually about something. All I can say is that with Chopping The Bop, The Big Heist have cracked the code!
Dandelion Moonglow - 70s style, hair metal, fist pumping, gobbledegook brilliance. Altogether now, “Stop! Banana tiiiiimmmeee”
Late Night Fight - A fantastic, lead guitar riff filled rocker with Farley’s vocals meeting every requirement of the band’s rhythm and soaring instrumentation.
Natural Wizard - Pete raps! To look at him you wouldn’t imagine “Pete” Peterson wouldn’t be a rhyme master general but if you’ve been paying attention to his masterful bass riffs and playing then you know the man’s got funky rhythm to spare! Natural Wizard gives Pete a very welcome chance to shine!
Already Gone - the rasping, ass kicking, grinding and elevating blues rock of Already Gone is transcendent and just when you might think there’s nothing left, The Big Heist show their endurance, their diversity and the sheer power of their talent.
Ready to Split - is all about the majesty of the songwriting itself with its superb melody mixing with Farley’s journeyman, singer-songwriter vocals and assured lyricism. Every song on these three albums are just, wow… stop reading this and just go listen!!
They’re Already Nostalgic - More gospel organ but this time it’s a gripping waltz where our protagonist screams against the constraints of normalcy while, deep down, most likely wishing he had the relationship and stability he seems to attack. It’s a phenomenal set of lyrics that sell the idea completely, with a musical choice as daring as it is perfect.
You Don’t Get Me To Kick Around No More - 46 songs in and you won’t believe that The Big Heist have more catchy, pop/rock, hook driven tunes to play you, but they do and each one is a winner!
A Thousand Tries - tying it all up and bringing it back around to MO75 from the end of Vol.1, Matt Farley has one last stadium style, singer-songwriter ballad to unite us all. If you’re not all hugging each other, singing to the sky, sweaty with the joy and passion of these 48 incredible songs then you lack the soul to fully comprehend the divine mastery of what The Big Heist have accomplished here. The melodic, soaring, perfect lead guitar solo on this track is the sort of late-night-driving tune you want to last forever.
To sum up, this album is the work of four musicians and songwriters working at the top of their game, each a vital part of the puzzle, each adding everything they’ve got to the tapestry that MO75 Volumes 1-3 weaves over its running time. It shows that innovation and creation is the beating heart of Americana and it’s alive and well in the strangest corners of the country that you’d never consider but when you shine a light in those nooks and crannies, you find humanity and creativity that is vibrant, vital and everlasting.
You can buy MO75 Volumes 1-3 on CDBaby, Amazon, itunes and wherever music is found
You can stream MO75 Volumes 1-3 on Spotify, YouTube, Amazon music, Google Play and wherever music is found.
I strongly suggest you do.
Yes The After Movie Diner usually reviews movies but Matt Farley and Motern Media are friends and big supporters of our website, they also make movies and MO75 by The Big Heist might as well be a movie considering how visual the songs are and the stories that they tell. So shut up.
This review was paid for by Matt Farley of Motern Media - he asked me to write that because he sent me $10 in the mail after a Twitter conversation, however all the opinions are my own and in no way tainted by the financial remuneration I received. Remember, truth in advertising…