Album Review: Half Moon Run – Sun Leads Me On

Oddball wilderness rockers make defining strides forward with their imperfect but inspired second album, says

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★★★★☆

Half Moon Run’s debut album might well be the most underappreciated record of the last five years. 2013’s Dark Eyes had everything for the acoustic-leaning seekers of oddball experimentalism – a haunting cornucopia of scuffed minimalist rhythms, three part harmonies and a beating heart of 60s prog rock beneath an outer skin of wilderness indie. It was a weird, wonderful little record without a niche to speak of, which somehow won it daytime Radio 1 play. ‘Full Circle’ and ‘Call Me In The Afternoon’ sat alongside filler from the X Factor winner of the day, sounding equal parts majestic and bizarre. The glorious debut followed and made waves internationally, but was broadly lost in the crowd on UK shores. A defining piece of art in the passing of the acoustic folk revival was washed out to sea as the masses stumbled to swallow Mumford’s irrelevant follow-up Babel.

Fast forward to 2015, and Half Moon Run are no less that estranged family loner you only see at weddings and funerals. In July, like a bear out of hibernation, they begin drip-feeding details of their sophomore, Sun Leads Me On, down social media channels – they have a new look, as is the requisite these days for Facebook album campaigns. The new display pictures are variations on the same theme; woodland seriousness and deliberate awkwardness, perhaps with a neater flavour, a more concerted sheen. Formulaic excitement builds among fans but nowhere else – this is that band from a few years ago, Half Moon something, who had that random-but-good song that time on Radio 1.

Then on the 7th August, something unexpected happens. The band releases a lead single – ‘Trust’. And, while at once making sense of everything, it doesn’t make any sense. The off-kilter percussion is gone, the harmonies are amiss. The jilted campfire aesthetic is out the window. But Half Moon Run arrives.

It’s one of the best songs of the year, and a lesson – to Mumford, and everyone else – in how to follow up a perfect debut, perfectly. It’s pulsating, psychedelic and synth led, a four-and-a-half minute retro romp with a heavenly angst and urgency. The rulebook hasn’t been thrown out, nor even re-written – it’s been scrapbooked, along with all the influences that come from being responsive, intuitive artists experiencing a medium organically. In this moment, Half Moon Run articulate how to evolve as a modern band, and in doing so, carve themselves that very niche. They’re a band of instinct and experimentation, and they don’t care what you think.

Sun Leads Me On dropped last week, and continues on the journey laid out by ‘Trust’. It meanders through acoustic phases and more electronic ones with ease, backing harmonica onto electric guitar onto rough-cut acoustic. It lacks the coherence of the debut but more than makes up for it in ideas, the breadth of which flirts with becoming too much before scaling things back at just the right moment. ‘I Can’t Figure Out What’s Going On’ provides a dense, bittersweet peak that transitions into the quieter trough of ‘Hands In The Garden’, in turn building into dark twisted album highlight ‘It Works Itself Out’. As a body of work, Sun Leads Me On is an effervescent display of darkness and light, as well as a celebration of exactly the qualities it represents – growth, evolution, and change.

The album never quite lives up to ‘Trust’ which, awkwardly as a lead single, closes the record. Yet this doesn’t really matter – it’s obvious that this is a follow-up intricately formed over the three year period since the debut, and it captures the myriad of directions the band could’ve taken. In this way, the direction they so successfully took was all of those directions, and this bodes well for the future. This is a band on an unpredictable journey with a new conviction, and you’d be mad not to follow them.

 

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