Canadian indie-rock quartet, Half Moon Run released their second studio album, Sun Leads Me On. Their debut, Dark Eyes, was rightly praised for its near flawless blend of rich, slow-burn indie rock tunes and catchy alt-pop anthems, littered with references to late ‘60’s West Coast folk rock and moments of brooding psychedelia. In what direction the band would next settle was the huge unanswered question. Now, amongst the highest of expectations and the input of newly appointed arctic monkeys producer, Jim Abbiss, we have an answer: all sorts of them.
Sun Leads Me On is a collection of songs that drift aimlessly between genres of folk, electronic, acoustic, indie-rock and even ‘80’s synth disco. It’s hugely accomplished, but it leaves you wondering whether this is the product of Half Moon Run’s brave experimental charm, or evidence of a group suffering from a second-album identity crisis. What we can say is that Sun Leads Me On will come as a surprise to any die-hard fan.
The quiet opening of ‘Warmest Regards’ is enough to take us back to the comfort and familiarity of their pre-2015 legacy. With Devon’s light vocals harmonising effortlessly with the guitar and a gradual percussive sound that just screams Dark Eyes, this track makes for a gentle start. Yet this is quickly subverted by the third track, ‘Consider Yourself’; a jack-of-all-trades offering, beginning with pulsating synths and culminating in towering vocals and Queens of the Stone Age arena rock. What comes next from single ‘Hands in the Garden’ is an attempt at intricate folk, a campfire acoustic up-lifter if you will. It’s a definite indie crowd pleaser, but it doesn’t demonstrate the emotion and depth that HMR are capable of.
For better or for worse, unfamiliar optimistic undercurrents seem to run through the core of the record,
“We had this beautiful thing, this wonderful chance, but we were also working our way through a lot of darkness, losing lots of friends, struggles at home, losing our sense of home, trying to let the music guide us but having trouble even finding that,” said multi-instrumentalist Dylan Phillips in a press release.
“There was a lot of strife in it all, but at the same time the sun just kept pulling us forward, and we just kept pushing forward and trying to find beauty in what we do.”
Even so, the album really does have its moments. ‘Narrow Margins’ is a perfect example of their meandering musical genres coming together to form something both catchy and melodically brilliant. The combination of captivating baselines, subtle twinkling synths and ghostly harmonies epitomizes their ability to pass between styles sophisticatedly.
Sudden jolts of life are seem amongst some of the less substantial folk interludes including ‘I Can’t Figure Out What’s Going On’, ‘Everybody Wants’ and ‘Devil May Care’. It’s a Half Moon Run classic formulation of dark lyrics mixed with soft guitar riffs, whaling vocals and slow-building ethereal soundscapes.
Second single and final track, ‘Trust’ is the pinnacle of Half Moon Runs’ departure from their original sound. The catchy and emphatic song sees the band pulling together confident beats and a mesh of chiming vocals and glitchy synths.
Taken in its entirety, the album lacks clear identity or purpose. It’s too promiscuous stylistically, and as a result, lacks the musical or thematic cohesion that any truly accomplished album must possess. Yet, when it’s broken down into its individual contributions, it shows that Half Moon Run have much to offer. Classic second-album syndrome? The pressures of trying to create something more accessible? A triumph of creative ability over discipline? Possibly all of the above. Yet, it still retains enough of the musical delights, for which fans of the first album were longing, whilst at the same time, being different enough to be interesting, insightful and, above all, challenging.