Soft Hearted Scientists are part of a relatively small population currently channelling their musical creativity into psychedelica-tinged folk. Their sound is bedded in heady ’60s and ’70s flower power, but Wandermoon’s appealing eccentricity lies in where the trippy melodies meet tales of everyday troubles, to maintain its grip on reality.
There should be room in the musical sphere for what Soft Hearted Scientists have created on this relatively short, six track album – their fourth to date. But any reluctance they experience will be nothing to do with their skill or craft, but on the grounds of accessibility and lack of originality. The Cardiff-based four-piece must’ve drank water from the same Welsh spring as Super Furry Animals or Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, because Wandermoon has that same fanciful, wide-eyed wonder. And some of The Beatles’ more psychedelic offerings – The White Album and Sgt Pepper to name but two – have also made their impact in the simple harmonies and matter of fact tales, not to mention Nathan Hall’s Paul McCartney-esque vocals.
Describing their music as ‘kitchen sink psychedelica’, Hall recently alluded to the madness afoot in Wandermoon. “It occurred to me that mountains might have a consciousness… that was one straaaange day,” he said. And listing a handful of sights across Wales and Derbyshire from which he sourced inspiration, Hall explained it is these beautiful places that are the slices of escapism that embody Wandermoon.
On that basis, quite how the evident subject matter for Tornadoes In Birmingham got the songwriting juices flowing is anyone’s guess, but airy plucked guitars and sailing keyboard notes transport the song straight to the scene. Exasperation at Britain’s climate spills over with Hall’s acerbic wit, as he threatens, with a touch of Jarvis Cocker about him, to up sticks and live on Cader Idris or Scafell Pike in a log cabin. Arrival Song has an even more acute distaste for this shore’s climate, but a Lemon Jelly stuttering beat peeks through the fog to brighten the outlook.
Even from the start Wandermoon feels distinctly trippy. Mountain Delight’s first listen creates déjà vu with its repeat curtain calls. This offbeat creativity is helped along by the woozy line, “Oh brother there’s a world to see, it’s overflowing in its mystery, and when I gaze into infinity I melt away”. A penchant for the left of field also floats in via the track’s music box intro, played in time to washboard scrapes, elastic band twangs and notes hummed by blowing bubbles in soapy water. Road to Rhyador does the same, describing sights without need for sight via sound effects, descriptions and layered vocal melodies that add atmosphere.
The Beatles storytelling simplicity is captured in The Trees Don’t Seem To Know That It’s September, harking back to When I’m 64’s strummed guitars and innocent vocals that couldn’t comprehend such a thing as Auto-Tune. Its endearing phrase, “The trees don’t seem to know that it’s September, please don’t tip them off they’ll lose their leaves,” begins a beguiling tale of summer romance, where banjos meet very British seaside organs.
Westward Leaning is a somewhat epic and bold closing statement at 10 minutes long. The strange and the peculiar collide, with ghostly keyboards and quaking cymbals that shrink at the vastness of the landscape they evoke. Hallmark quirks and beats of The Flaming Lips jostle nicely with fantastical acid descriptions like “Mutating skies cascading the magic dust of an optimist,” before Wandermoon is repeated over and over, like the soundtrack of something that should’ve introduced a ’70s cartoon.
All this aside, it simply can’t shield the fact that Wandermoon is built on a premise that’s really rather depressing; the need for escapism to cope with humdrum reality. But cleverly, it balances the ordinary with the extraordinary, creating a trippy placebo to reveal the whimsy in day-to-day life. Fleeting it may be, but Wandermoon’s effect is still quite enchanting.