Half Moon Run fall short by allowing themselves to stay in limbo between their old sound and glimmers of a progressive departure from it.
Listen to the first three tracks of Sun Leads Me On, and you’ll wonder where you are and what Half Moon Run are doing. Opener ‘Warmest Regards’ is a confused bag of pan flutes, husky vocals and a nostalgic (or perhaps outdated) feel, whereas ‘I Can’t Figure Out What’s Going On’ comes in with the indie Half Moon Run listeners will recognise from 2012’s Dark Eyes. This comfort is short-lived, however, as we are thrown into ‘Consider Yourself’, which opens with dark 80s electronic work that would be suited to a chase scene in a retro video game.
Sun Leads Me On requires you to take all of this in, assess it, then return to find the gems among the tracks. Diversity is one thing, but the stark contrasts of the first three tracks makes the entrance to the album confusing and mismatched. It’s worth perseverance, however: as you settle into the album, more than flickers are to be heard of Half Moon Run’s recognisable sound.
‘Turn Your Love’ carefully marries what seem to be the two sides of Half Moon Run: the slightly progressive and new with the settled and old. With racing guitars and quick percussion, its plunge into a deeper sound adds a flair of excitement to the track and sets it apart from the quiet folkiness of tracks such as ‘Everybody Wants’. But even ‘Everybody Wants’, being for the majority comprised of soft guitar melodies and wistful vocals, dissolves into a more chaotic composition towards its end, infusing the track with zeal.
‘Narrow Margins’, ‘Hands In The Garden’ and ‘Devil May Care’ showcase the band’s folk side, with harmonicas, fast guitar picks and unhurried vocals. The tracks have narratives subtly embedded into them. There’s something nostalgic about these tracks too, similar to the album’s opener. But these are not confused tracks in any sense. It seems that here is where Half Moon Run are most at home, when they don’t stray from the statement sound that they have create for themselves. The tracks make more sense, and don’t leave you wondering what’s going on and who you are listening to.
The eponymous track falls at the midway point in the album. It’s slow, intriguing and well constructed, building from an isolated guitar melody which is softly offset by the higher tone of Devon Portielje’s vocals. ‘Sun Leads Me On’ is a hopeful track, which seems to take you towards somewhere. But there’s something sombre about it too. “I’m leaving ’til the sun brings me home / ‘Til I’m no longer lost”, croons the track, but if you were hoping to stop being lost by the end of the album, you’ll be disappointed. Album closer ‘Trust’ adds a darker dimension to Sun Leads Me On, combining a racing pace with electronic and synth work. If the whole album were like this, Half Moon Run would have created an enticingly different sophomore album. The darker synths and waining, echoey vocals, with its dissolve into an entirely electronic portion create a promising end to the album.
Sophomore albums are notoriously tricky: artists are criticised for sticking to their old sound, or criticised for departing from it. What is needed, though, is consistency. Sun Leads Me On‘s confusing beginning sets the tone for the rest of the album with Half Moon Run falling in limbo between a more progressive sound and their folky origins. The exciting glimmers of progression, such as the opening and closing tracks – although discordant with its quieter elements – are where this album is at its best. It’s a shame Half Moon Run didn’t quite take the plunge into new realms with their music.
Sun Leads Me On is out now via Glassnote.