Band: Moon Letters | Album: Until They Feel the Sun | Genre: Progressive rock | Year: 2019
From: Seattle, USA | Label: Independent
For fans of: Yes, Genesis, Camel
Moon Letters are the first of my fellow Seattleites to be featured on my blog. I’ve seen them live a handful times, and they put on a fantastic show. I was introduced to them when they opened for Pinkish Black at the show with the most confusing lineup that I’ve ever personally been to. (The four bands played retro-progressive rock, Bulgarian folk, punk, and spacy gothic rock.)
This group, like many in the contemporary progressive rock scene, heavily base their sounds on the giants of the genre. Yes and Genesis are their two clearest influences, but the songwriting is original enough for them to rise above the territory of schlocky knock-offs and stand on their own as a distinct band.
Until They Feel the Sun is Moon Letters’ full-length debut, having previously cut a four-song demo. It opens with “Skara Brae” and wastes no time establishing this band’s modus operandi. This brief instrumental sees guitar and synthesizer harmonizing for a grandiose main theme backed by Mellotron-sounding strings. Countering this relatively aggressive cut are the ensuing folky songs “On the Shoreline” and “What Is Your Country”. The former features lovely vocal interplay and idyllic flutework, while the latter is almost fully a cappella.
“Beware the Finman” is one of the heaviest songs on the album, opening with a brief, swirling maelstrom of guitars and drums. The verses, though, have an almost-Marillion-like feel. The guitar and synth tones used here sound very 1980s. This song, like many of the extended tracks on this album, is mostly instrumental, but the soloing feels purposeful, and it’s only on rare occasions where I think they could have trimmed it down a little.
“Sea Battle” is another highlight. The marching, martial theme suits it perfectly, pushing the music along and maintaining high levels of tension. Even as the guitar and synthesizer perform twisting, jazzy solos, the rhythm section remains steady and propulsive. Keys are used both to make quieter moments feel more intimate and to augment the drama of more intense passages.
“The Tarnalin” is probably my least-favorite song on the album. It certainly isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, but it does feel somewhat meandering and even unnecessary. Aside from this track, my overall gripes are quite few and nothing out-of-the-ordinary. There’s the odd solo here or there they could have scaled back for the sake of conciseness, but it’s rare for me to not have that gripe with a progressive rock album.
The album closes strong. “The Red Knight” is a charging hard-rocker that evokes Kansas’s early output. It’s quite theatrical with its big riffs and layered vocals, and the soloing which closes the song is top-notch. The closing “Sunset of Man” then opens with gentle electric piano and flute before exploding into a reprise of the main theme from “Skara Brae”. This bombast segues to a moment of jazzy soloing, followed by floating space rock, before eventually coming back around to the bombast. This might sound unfocused and scattershot, but everything flows together naturally.
I’d been looking forward to this album ever since I first saw the band at that weird concert, and it doesn’t disappoint. Plenty of prog’s classic tropes are on proud display here, but the compositions are strong and original enough that it doesn’t bog the album down.
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