by Ben Hogwood
What’s the story?
Nightlands, the solo project of The War On Drugs bassist Dave Hartley, has reached its third instalment. Moonshine reflects a change in the pace of his home personal life, since leaving Philadelphia for the relatively deserted area of Asheville.
When crafting his music, Hartley has looked to build massive layers of keyboards and vocals on top of each other, creating ‘stacks’ of sound. They are in keeping with the album’s artwork, as the press release describes. “The surrealistic album art by Austin-based illustrator Jaime Zuverza depicts an archway opening to the stars over the surface of an idyllic sea flanked by both moon and sun”, it says. “Similarly, Moonshine reveals portals within portals leading to ever deeper places in Hartley’s vocal-centered labyrinth.”
What’s the music like?
As wide open as that introduction suggests it will be, but in spite of the big textures there is a touching intimacy too. On occasion it feels like the one person you are talking to has gone out for a quick smoke under the stars in a massive vista, and will be back inside shortly. The music pans out to give space to these thoughts, which are often tender and warm.
They are not without sharp-edged feeling, however. Stare Into The Sun has a direct observation on political machinations. “You’ve got your sheep but you’re no shepherd”, sings Hartley. “What does it mean…to buy everyone, and send someone’s son to Afghanistan?” No Kiss For The Lonely is equally pertinent, with its observation of “no love for you refugees, no rest for the weary”.
Most of the time, however, the album inhabits a calming place, the big vocals and keyboards complemented by languid saxophone lines and impressively supple rhythm tracks. The music unfolds with a slow and very natural groove, and Hartley’s warm-hearted vocals become its principle feature, often finding a style of music akin to a less troubled Bon Iver.
With You is a prime example, inhabiting a serene and content place, while Blue Wave goes even calmer, its keyboards like a slowly running stream.
Does it all work?
It does, especially at either end of the day. Moonshine has some very evocative moments, and it is beautifully written, rewarding background listening but also offering more to those paying attention to the lyrics.
Is it recommended?
Is it recommended?
Yes – an album of starry Americana that deserves its place in the moonlight.