Canadian four-piece Half Moon Run returned to the music scene after three long years with their second album Sun Leads Me On [7/10], which certainly leads you on the band’s journey over the past few years. The most obvious difference from their debut is not only their distinctly different sound but also the wide range of musical styles they showcase. On the surface, the album appears to be less well rounded and more like a collection of the “good songs” they managed to squeeze out, with member Dylan Phillips admitting that the band had struggled whilst writing for the second album, and with another band member added to the trio since the release of their debut, there were some definite musical differences within the band. However useless it is to speculate about the reasons for the diverse array of musical styling, somehow it still works together as a whole.
Sun Leads Me On is a slow starter with the first few tracks being fairly forgettable in the grand scheme of the band’s repertoire. As you gently drift into it, ‘Warm Regards’ sets the scene immediately with the line ”I’m not sure if I can put things back together like before” which seems to have a double meaning referring to the change in direction that the band have taken. Similarly, the next track, ‘I Can’t Figure Out What’s Going On’, is another gentle song but with a flavour of electric guitar to give it a rock and roll edge. It has a laid back, happy-go-lucky vibe but again, doesn’t really blow you away.
The band is much more successful at capturing an upbeat vibe in ‘Hands in the Garden’ which, as the fourth track, is the first real standout on the album. This song is said to have been written whilst the band were in California and definitely captures their chilled out days surfing in the sun and evenings spent jamming together blissfully in its rhythm. The addition of mandolin and harmonica is really uplifting and the track simply emanates positivity. It does feel oddly positioned, appearing right after their rockiest track, ‘Consider Yourself’, which is where things really begin to kick off – despite not being their strongest sound. The thread that holds it together though is Portielje’s impressively versatile vocal, which is strong enough in tracks like ‘Consider Yourself’ and pure enough for the softer ballads of the album.
The transition into the next track is much more seamless, and Half Moon Run seem to be on a winning streak here, with ‘Turn Your Love’ being another highlight of the bunch. It is clearly reminiscent of the sound they captured in their debut, Dark Eyes, but with a bit more of an edge. It is nice to see they are still able to create this sound, despite it not being as effective as previous songs like ‘Full Circle’. ‘It Works Itself Out’ is another excellent track and most similar to what they were doing in their first album, although there are some minor improvements with more textures added and a better build up as you are drawn in by the catchy guitar riff and haunting vocal which, in many ways, is similar to what Alt-J’s Joe Newman achieves.
Sandwiched between these two tracks, ‘Narrow Margins’ is an understated song but there’s a certain charm about the chorus and there are golden moments lyrically, which appear to be very honest and borderline poetic at times. ‘Sun Leads Me On’ is also a much softer ballad which excels at exhibiting the bands perfect harmonies. It builds up at just the right moments and paired with meaningful lyrics has an almost celestial feel.
Half Moon Run really surprise with a folk influenced track, ’Devil May Care’, which is a nice little catchy number and actually works very well, although it is completely different to anything else on the album or in fact, anything they have produced before. If listened to out of context it probably wouldn’t be attributed to being by the same band and frankly makes the album track listing feel even more slapdash.
Unfortunately, ‘Everybody Wants’ seems to disappear into the background along with ‘The Debt’ which as more of a rock ballad and would have been a perfect finishing track. However, the band chose to finish off with ‘Trust’ which has the same problem as some of the other songs in that it doesn’t really feel like it belongs and was just tacked onto the end –particularly as it is known that this was the final song they wrote. It has much more electronic undertones and perhaps this is a direction that will lead their next journey.
It is certainly an album that will divide opinions, but there is no doubting their obvious multi-instrumental talents and attention to detail. It is actually fairly commendable and interesting to see a band embracing their mixed identity and not conforming to having to fit into a specific box. I’m sure the next chapter of their journey will lead us down a totally different path, and I for one will be sure to follow.