DISCovery - Moon Letters
The original aim of the blog was to promote discussion about all and any facet of progressive rock but from time to time, bands and musicians contact ProgBlog with new prog-related material that they want to expose to a wider audience; ProgBlog's album of 2017 An Invitation by Amber Foil was one such approach.
The range of styles ProgBlog has been exposed to through this route has helped to expand and challenge my listening habits but time constraints have meant that not all submissions have received the attention that they deserve.
The DISCovery section has been introduced to better serve the requirements of musicians who contact ProgBlog with the aim of increasing the audience for their music; without music there can be no discussion of music.
Moon Letters is John Allday (keyboards, vocals, trumpet), Mike Murphy (bass, vocals, trumpet), Kelly Mynes (drums), Michael Trew (vocals, flute) and Dave Webb (guitar), a quintet from the US Pacific North West formed from a host of other Seattle bands who released their first album Until They Feel the Sun in June 2019.
Until They Feel the Sun is a concept album presented as a song cycle, inspired by seal-human shape-shifting Selkie folklore from Scotland (particularly Orkney, introduced on the opening track Skara Brae and the Shetland Islands), Ireland, the Faroe Islands, and also from Iceland – adding poignancy to the album artwork, a photograph of Icelandic art model Johannsdottir by Hans H. Bjorstad – while the Selkie pastime of dancing in the moonlight offers an oblique reference to the band’s moniker.
The album is really well constructed using a wide variety of styles; the classic melodic alternating lead guitar and keyboard prog of Skara Brae gives rise to a short bucolic section that segues into On the Shoreline and we’re treated to some gorgeous flute, tasteful guitar and a brief but excellent analogue sound synthesizer run. Trew’s vocals remind me of David Surkamp but they’re far more assured throughout, apart from the harmonies on the third track, the psyche-folk What is Your Country where they are deliberately haunting and hint at frailty.
The preceding tracks have been brief but Beware the Finman is the first of four lengthier songs, allowing some nice development and intra-track stylistic variation where we experience moments of electronica, short bursts of hard rock, an odd meter accompanied by Tony Banks-like synth from Selling England or The Lamb Lies Down and expressive guitar soloing. Those Dark Eyes is predominately mysterious with whispered vocals, Canterbury-like electric piano and more Lamb Lies Down synthesizer motifs and sections in 7/4 before a vocal passage and an up-tempo rock/heavy prog work out before the final verse. Another long track, there is a good development of ideas and the instrumental sections are melodic. There’s even a neat angular denouement that’s reminiscent of Fragile-era Yes leading to the longest piece on the album, Sea Battle. Though the song doesn’t appear to be about a physical battle, there are military-style rhythmic patterns that crop up throughout and the vocals and djent-like guitar at the end of the track emphasise a feeling of war. This is offset by sections in 5/4 to make it even more proggy, supplemented by a percussive keyboard section that could have been written by Gentle Giant and distorted guitar that sounds like Martin Barre from Jethro Tull. The Tarnalin is anthemic and possibly most representative of Moon Letter’s music with dominant melodies and a clever balance of instrumentation and vocals. There’s even an inclusion of trumpets towards the end of the song. It’s All Around You is a brief vocal and acoustic guitar interlude before The Red Knight, another anthemic composition with its strident alternating lead guitar and synthesizer lines. This is possibly the most straightforward track on the album because it reminds me of early Asia where the playing is first-class but complexity has been sacrificed for accessibility.
Sunset of Man completes the song cycle, commencing with pastoral flute and reverb-heavy electric piano before wistful vocals and the reprise of the Skara Brae theme. Shifting between up-tempo melodic sections (think of the latter section of Genesis’ The Cinema Show) and angular breaks, this is a proggy and entirely suitable end to a very enjoyable album.
Though they make no attempt to hide their influences, the combination of styles marks it out as unique Moon Letters. It’s well played, well produced and well presented. Anyone into classic symphonic prog would surely appreciate this but the melodicism gives Until They Feel the Sun a wider appeal
Moon Letters - Sunset of Man
Moon Letters - Until They Feel the Sun (cover photo: Hans H. Bjorstad)