Moving Mountains’ fall from grace following their pitch-perfect debut LP Pneuma was a scolding, sobering affair; an almost impressive free fall which saw the band go from critically acclaimed post-rock chameleons to a critic’s wet dream in just one release. In truth, Waves was an easy target for the fickle, trigger-happy community who couldn’t wait to explain why they never saw the appeal of the band in the first place, but it was also an album with a puzzling lack of everything that Pneuma had in spades — scope, ambition, emotion — and it represented a near-fatal blow to the creative gasket of one of the the few bands who could mix and match ambient, post-rock and screamo and make it work.
But, despite the slightly odd decision to release an eponymous album now (which feels more like a wimpy mid-life crisis than a defiant artistic epiphany), Moving Mountains appear to have washed their faces in a stormy downpour and re-focused. Familiar flashes from their revered formative material make a welcome return, most noticeably with the horns that solemnly sigh at half-mast on ‘Hands’, the brooding keys that linger in the shadows of ‘Under a Falling Sky’ and the glockenspiel motifs that pepper the scenery of ‘Eastern Leaves’. These homely touches won’t appease those who still yearn for the crashing high/low dynamics of old, nor are they enough by themselves to suggest that the band have rediscovered their sense of wonderment, but in many ways, these are the same dashes of colour that painted Pnuema, it’s just that the ink has dried differently.
It’s a more dreary proposition entirely on the surface, despite the overly shiny veneer of the mix, with words often tumbling out of Gregory Dunn’s mouth as nothing more than deeply laboured sighs that cling to threads of melody with a tangible desperation — ‘..all this time, I’ve been myself to all of you’ he delivers with a weary exhalation on opener ‘Swing Set’, a sentiment that feels directed at those who mistook his desire to experiment and evolve for a lack of honesty. And, given the amount of ambience and instrumental excursions that have been stripped away in favour of easily digestible and instantly satisfying highs, the importance of Dunn’s ability to steer his vocal setups away from predictable conclusions cannot be understated.
This is no more apparent than on the excellent ‘Hudson’, a song as vast in scope and progression as anything found on Pneuma and also the band’s biggest indication that their post-rock roots haven’t completely been cast aside. It bleeds at the edges as scrambling guitars and off-beat drum patterns make way for Dunn’s rousing cries of ‘We are fortunate ones, but home is further from us’, a lyric presumably about a difficult relationship but equally as applicable to the sacrifices that musicians make to exist. It’s more Thrice than Hammock, but rather than regressing into a routine alt rock structure, the band spend the remaining minutes exploring a soundscape filled with layered guitars, tussling melodies and sweeping drums and bass – the kind of driving-without-a-map instrumental journey they used to take all the time.
The most vivid example of Moving Mountains’ evolution is mirrored in the structure of ‘Eastern Leaves’ though, a swirling expanse of tones and cadences that shifts from a swill of resigned, distorted hushes and acoustic guitars (a call back to the opening strums of Pnuema’s ‘Sol Solis’) before effectively morphing into a much improved do-over of the really shit ‘The Cascade’ from Waves. It harks back to that high-school era of raw experimentation whilst resolutely distancing itself from it; a paradox some fans of the Pnuema-days will still reject, but a sign that Moving Mountains have at least acknowledged the quality of their youth and found that sometimes you have to move backwards in order to move forwards.
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