Review - Moon Letters

Jon B discovers an album of two halves as he listens to the latest release from Moon Letters, Thank You From The Future ...

What makes good prog-rock? Forward-thinking virtuosities are the name of the game; thus, it’s rewarding on technical merits. However, it poses a difficult question: how much is too much? Ambition is a gateway to indulgence, and indulgence is one of the most frustrating flaws music can have. Bloated compositions, indecipherable lyrics, endless pentatonic solos, and – ironically – the inability to move past the 70s are all factors that shoot the genre in the foot. The most egregious offenders can even include minutes on-end of dead space (e.g., field recordings) – looking at you The Mars Volta.

I’m relieved to say Moon Letters don’t – for the most part – give in to the common faults. On Thank You from the Future, their initial songwriting is tight, consistently ending tracks around the seven-minute mark or earlier – a disciplined length for the genre. The opener, Sudden Sun, thrusts us straight into a whirlwind of odd time signatures and dissonant riffing al-a Voivod. It’s engaging as an auditory puzzle but maintains feel, hopping between modes with legato in mind as opposed to sterile precision. At only four minutes, it’s a delightful composition.

The Hrossa and Mother River possess similar strengths, the former shifting from space rock into jazz/blues fusion with fascinating, melodic results. The latter genre-jumps in similar affair, swaying between Phrygian ominousness to majors and pentatonic sounds with ease. Somehow, this all sounds natural; it’s genius songwriting.

Isolation and Foreboding is a solid space rock cut; a tactful break from the intensity while maintaining some solid sound-play. However, Child of Tomorrow is a less-engaging mashup of 70s-influence and Omar Rodriguez Lopez-esque Latin rock – two prog-staples I can’t say I care for. Unfortunately, this marks a downward trajectory for the album, helped no less by both these mid-pace tracks being placed sequentially. It’s a pace-killer and the album refuses to shift from it; everything from here on is in the same vein.

Fate of the Alacorn lacks the high-calibre songwriting of the early cuts, feeling too cheesy for its own good with stadium-rock style riffs. The instrumental eclecticism in its last third – including brass and organs – feels like a poor attempt at making the standard-affair pentatonic solo in the forefront sound interesting. This isn’t to say the song isn’t without modal explorations beyond that, but these are throwaway and feel markedly less ambitious; a poor make-up for a track that sounds by-the-numbers for the genre.

Yesterday is Gone suffers from the same problems: a glam influenced first half featuring unconventional instruments – this time, flutes – to mask what appears to be a shortage of ideas. Song structure largely mirrors its predecessor, closing the record on a downer. It feels inconclusive; why not end with a high-pace firecracker?

Evidently, Moon Letters are cerebral musicians. I don’t blame them for failing to find the sweet spot between intensity and restraint; it’s the struggle of a thousand musicians. The reason why albums like Deloused in The Comatorium were so successful is, despite the problems The Mars Volta would go on to inherit, their debut balanced density and accessibility with ease, not to mention capture it dynamically within tracks.

Moon Letters, conversely, think songs need to be written one way or the other and – worse still – a record needs to be divided up in halves: intensity first, accessibility later. This just isn’t a good approach in my eyes, yet the solution of melding these two and have it sound unpredictable-yet-coherent is a gargantuan challenge that I feel guilty in asking of the band. Still, their stellar creativity and virtuosity in Thank You From the Future’s first half shows they have the potential to do it; they just need to work on consistency.

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