Review Summary: Dark Eyes as a whole is an invigorating offering, with just the right balance of catchiness and atmosphere to satisfy music listeners on all ends of the sonic spectrum.
So 2012 came and went, and while we all gushed over the indie/folk stylings of mewithoutYou, The Mountain Goats, and Kristian Mattson’s second coming of Bob Dylan, one of the bands that flew very far under the radar was Canadian indie folk trio Half Moon Run, who made waves late in 2011 for their impressive live set at the “M For Montreal” music festival. Regarded by myriad concertgoers as the best new act of the week, the group channeled their delightful harmonies and rich atmospheres into Dark Eyes
, their impressive debut album. At its core, the album’s sound is simple: charming indie rock with pop sensibilities and a slightly less than subtle Radiohead influence. With just as much of a focus on catchy acoustic passages as there is on breathtaking atmospheric soundscapes, the band crafts elegant, cohesive backtracks to frontman Devin Portielje’s dynamic and emotive vocals. The dreamy piano and deliberate acoustic guitar speak softly as sporadic electronics and diluted electric guitar tones bleed across the auditory threshold, amalgamating into minimalist ethereal backdrops, but for all the simplicity the music overflows with the opulence of a Roman fountain. By adding Portielje’s honest voice and astonishing register, it’s almost too plain to see how rife with talent and potential the band is. But as seriously as the band takes themselves, the guys have a penchant for making lively, fun music.
“She Wants To Know” is one of the better examples of Half Moon Run’s ability to seamlessly combine an element of fun with a textured and atmospheric track, blending a playful back and forth “ba ba ba” with a delicate piano tune atop a subtle synth-fueled ambience. Portielje’s animated vocals glaze over the track, subtly at first, with subdued verses that erupt into cries of “I guess I needed to open up and let it all out”, as the song crescendos into a lush, almost post-rock euphony of instruments to close the track. “Call Me in the Afternoon” establishes Portielje as a truly gifted vocalist, as he glitters just about the entire track with captivating harmonies and a thoroughly dazzling delivery, nimbly stuttering the cautious lyrics across his impressive vocal range, embellishing each note elegantly. And the vivid and emotive “Full Circle,” arguably the album’s best track, is an organic and layered tableau – a graceful stroll through the crisp morning air of the final days of autumn, the concrete stained with gorgeous patterns of amber, oft-trodden leaves that shimmer with a wispy film of sun-touched dew glowing beneath the still-blue sky. But the beauty is juxtaposed with the frosty, tough bark of the naked, forsaken trees and the wind-worn shrubbery – now gaunt and brown – foreboding a cruel winter. It’s given this disparate force largely by the urgent and impassioned cries of Portielje, who bemoans the depression and self-destructive behaviors of a friend just out of reach, while the instrumental track is given life and lush atmospheres by the sunny melodies and slow-burning rolls of instruments softly, calculatedly melting into each other from the edges of the panoramic horizon.
For all its splendor, what the album ultimately suffers from is a slightly sub-par second half. While there are still some standouts to be found late in the game, such as the urgent, balmy “Drug You,” and “Give Up”, which features the kitchen sink of Half Moon Run’s instrumentation as the group shamelessly channels Radiohead, most of the album’s later songs can’t quite keep up with the immensity of the first four tracks. “Judgment” forsakes atmosphere for jangly guitar tones and perhaps a poppy respite from the band’s style, but it ultimately serves only as a bland distraction that detracts from the album’s cohesion and the band’s proclivity to sonic exploration. And “Nerve” seems to be a safe filler track that comprises a melody and atmosphere that’s maybe a touch too pedestrian for what we’ve seen elsewhere on Dark Eyes
. The album as a whole though is an invigorating offering, with just the right balance of catchiness and atmosphere to satisfy music listeners on all ends of the sonic spectrum – it’s a display of indie rock done almost perfectly, and it really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone if Half Moon Run starts to blow up.