Night Moves perfects its timelessly surreal psych-rock

Night Moves (from left): bassist Micky Alfano, singer-guitarist John Pelant, and multi-instrumentalist Mark Ritsema.
Night Moves (from left): bassist Micky Alfano, singer-guitarist John Pelant, and multi-instrumentalist Mark Ritsema.

If 20 years from now you picked up “Colored Emotions,” the debut by the Minneapolis trio Night Moves, you’d be hard-pressed to guess its release date. The album, which spins in an orbit of twangy guitars, dreamy strings, trippy vocals, and lush harmonies, sounds both old and new. It could have been a long-lost classic of the late 1960s or just another album you missed in 2012.

Even harder to nail down are its stylistic cues. It’s the rare album whose influences you can’t easily pinpoint. Some critics have decided it’s cosmic country (Gram Parsons by way of MGMT, perhaps), while others have declared it a psychedelic-rock gem. To these ears, there are also echoes of the Beach Boys’ surreal ’70s records.

The truth is, “Colored Emotions” is a little bit of all that. And that’s fine by singer-guitarist John Pelant.


“Whenever anyone asks me what it sounds like, I just say it’s spacey pop that’s tinged with country,” says Pelant, who brings Night Moves to Great Scott on Sunday. “We wrote the record three years ago, and I remember wanting it to sound like the Ronettes, Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound, Neil Young, and George Harrison’s ‘All Things Must Pass.’ ”

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The band, which also includes multi-instrumentalist Mark Ritsema and Micky Alfano on bass, originally self-financed and released the album in 2011 before the label Domino reissued a modified version of it last year.

“We took our time with it. When we finally finished it, we didn’t have a label to put it out and we didn’t want to make any packaging for it, so we just burned copies of it and gave it out at our shows to see if anyone liked it,” Pelant says. “We felt pretty confident about it. We thought it was good. We felt like we had some good songs and a vision.”

“There were definitely moments of doubt because we spent so much time on it, even before we remixed it for the Domino version,” he says, estimating that the band — which didn’t even have a name at the time of recording it — crafted the album over two years. “We were writing it and figuring it out as we were going along. We kind of got in over our heads.”

Pelant was well aware of how fans discover and consume new music.


“People don’t really pay for music anymore, so I thought if anyone is going to hear it, we’re going to have to give it away for free,” he says. “And that’s what we did, in copies wrapped in construction paper.”

To fine-tune the album — by remixing it and re-recording certain parts — they turned to Thom Monahan, the California-based producer whose long list of credits runs from Pernice Brothers to Devendra Banhart to Vetiver.

“We kept most of the tracks from the original and went to Los Angeles knowing that we already had the songs and didn’t need anybody to help us figure out our sound,” Pelant says. “We already had that.”

“It was really amazing,” Monahan says of the original version of “Colored Emotions.” “Domino sent it to me and said the band wanted to take it further. I think they made something really compelling as they were still evolving. All bands start in one place and end up in another.

“They’re really talented and smart. They have a lot of depth, a lot of expressiveness,” Monahan adds. “They have a lot of things that they want to do. The main thing was to make sure we bridged those two worlds: where they were and where they wanted to go. We tried to stay true to the album, but things also had to evolve.”


By Pelant’s account, Night Moves has been gradually evolving since he and his bandmates were friends in high school. They had other bands together — “We really dug the Faint and basically just wanted to make dance rock” — but nothing stuck until Night Moves coalesced around its debut.

As for the band’s name, it wasn’t a conscious nod to Bob Seger, who released an album with the same title in 1976.

“We always get asked that, so I don’t know how that’s going to fare in the long run,” Pelant says, admitting that maybe it’s not as pertinent to the band’s younger fans. “I think we can rise above that.”

James Reed can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GlobeJamesReed.