By: Amanda McMillan
It’s been over four years since we’ve heard from Montreal alt-rock hunks, Half Moon Run. Their first two albums, Dark Eyes and Sun Leads Me On respectively, have gathered them quite the following and with every release, they truly seem to evolve. With this new release, we see a more mature version of the band. It’s slick, very well produced, and showcases a wider range of instrumentation than we’ve heard in the past. There’s a lot of piano, some synth, heavy bass, slides, and even a baritone sax! However, the glue that holds this album together, much like all their albums, is the vocals.
I’ve always been a sucker for a good harmony, and the presence of killer male harmonies (outside of redundant boy band pop songs) is hard to come by. It’s what drew me to this band when I first saw them live in 2012 opening for Plants and Animals and it’s what keeps me coming back to them.
In general, A Blemish in the Great Light is a little more “radio friendly” than their previous two releases, with catchy chorus’ and well-timed bridges. They’ve come a long way since their 2012 debut. But what they’ve managed to maintain is that deeply emotional element, without ever feeling saccharine or angsty.
The album opens with “Then Again,” which immediately strikes hot as classic Half Moon Run. The strings at the one minute mark create a sense of urgency, and that chorus is instantly singable. As the track progresses into the bridge, we’re met with a killer bassline that’s simple but dominant, paired a fancy little guitar scale for good measure. Then bam! Is that a baritone sax? It fits right in.
Next is “Favourite Boy”, and off the top is very bass-forward, which is new for them. The strings and the choir vocals add fullness to it, keeping it from feeling to funky. It’s a little bit CSNY, a little bit 80s with the synth, all while still feeling distinctly alt-rock and identifiably HMR. This is one of the more layered songs we’ve heard from them yet, there’s a lot going on. But as only the second song in, we’re along for the ride.
Next is the third single release “Flesh and Blood.” Again this feels a little more classic Half Moon Run, with its folky sensibilities. The guitar slide and keys give it a nice flare, and those gorgeous harmonies hit in all the right places. This track definitely showcases their mature, revealing some of their influences and the direction they seem to be heading in. It pairs nicely with “Natural Disaster”, which is probably the most radio-friendly song we’ve heard from the band, despite the instrumentals being a little bit of a departure from their usual sound.
Black Diamond has a bit of a Lucius vibe to it, which is an apt comparison vocally. The piano gives it a bit of a Billy Joel vibe, and I get the sense based on the vocals, the lyrics, and the reprise of the slide guitar that they’ve perhaps been listening to a lot of pop-country or bluegrass. The same can be said about “Yani’s Song” that follows.
As we get to the back half of the album, it feels a little more steeped in the sound we’ve come to know and love. “Razorblade” could have easily been a demo from 2015’s Sun Leads Me On that was finished with the gloss of this album. It’s a very long song, coming in at nearly seven and a half minutes. The last third of the song is very intense, and then kind of pulls itself back with a bit of a Bowie circa Hunky Dory outro. It’s a roller coaster!
The remaining three tracks are lovely, one of which is a gorgeous piano instrumental performed by drummer Dylan Phillips. The album wraps up nicely with the quasi-existential “New Truth,” which could very easily be the opening credits to a dramatic post-apocalyptic TV series. What that says about what’s been on the band’s mind, I’m not sure.
Fans of the band will likely be satisfied with this album, hopefully appreciating its intricacies, and the slight change in direction. There is certainly enough of the band’s sound to cling to, while also sharing new parts to them that we can get to know. Newcomers to the band might not benefit from working their way back from here. Both Dark Eyes and Sun Leads Me On are two sides of the same coin, while Blemish is a new coin entirely. Regardless, this album, as is often common with a third album, marks the start of a new journey for the band, and they’ve given us no reason not to follow them on it.