Awake is the opening cut of Martin Courtney‘s debut solo record, Many Moons, and in it he proclaims “what will be will be”. However, this is very much an attempt to break out of a routine. After three albums with Real Estate, and a heavy touring schedule for recent effort Atlas, he decided to find a new creative outlet for the songs he was writing on the road. With the New Jersey band currently in a state of inactivity, he’s decided to find a new creative outlet to try out some new ideas.
The overall sound is arguably just as hazy as the one that his ‘day job’ has conjured up, but the key difference is that there is a more rootsy and pastoral vibe. It would have been very tempting for him to just put out a bare bones acoustic record; Songs like Foto and Asleep sound like they have been built up from acoustic demos. But there are subtle layers that show that Courtney is at least trying to add new elements to his songwriting, mainly though the addition of string arrangements and even the odd flute melody.
Helping him out in creating this comfort blanket-esque aesthetic is Jarvis Taveniere from Woods alongside Julian Lynch and Matt Kallman. Whilst the playing is excellent throughout, the lack of any real variation in dynamics gets a bit stale when Many Moons reaches its second half. There’s only so much breeziness that one can take and the songs just mesh into one another. There is one deviation courtesy of a neat instrumental title track, but even then it sounds as if it’s a composition that is awaiting lyrics or harmonies to guide it.
The flipside of all this is that Courtney remains the sole focus of one’s attention throughout, almost by default. There are some interesting meditations on fatherhood to be found (particularly on Awake). However, it’s the songs that are clearly influenced by being on the road that stand out the most. References are everywhere, from the daydreaming in Focus to Northern Highways, which plays out like a diary entry from the tour bus. By the end of closing number Airport Bar, it’s easy to get the sense that being constantly away from home has made him feel jaded and yearning for a simpler life, and also explains why these songs may not fit in the Real Estate back catalogue.
Whilst not engrossing for the entirety of its running, Many Moons is still a pleasurable listening experience. It takes a few listens to get to the lyrical gems, which can often be remarkably revelatory. Those already familiar with Real Estate will no doubt have their withdrawal symptoms eased a little by these 10 songs.