A third collection of intricate and beautiful music from the innovative New Englanders
Surely the earth spun a little faster and the sun winked when Anna Wise and Dane Orr, otherwise known Sonnymoon, met at the esteemed Berklee College Of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, all those years ago. It’s no surprise that the duo’s first two albums, each a heady and irresistible mix of electronica, jazz, r&b and avant-garde, thrilled and intrigued critics on both sides of the pond.
With ‘The Courage Of Present Times’, Sonnymoon have developed into something a lot more accessible but no less clever. It’s something that is influenced by the character of the different musical genres that make up their sound, but the overall vibe here is definitely electronic, particularly in terms of the production and the artful composition – and that includes the order of the songs.
The opener, ‘Blue’, breaks like clouds on a suddenly sunny day. Baby bunnies poke their heads out of their burrows and bounce across grassy green meadows, birds sing sweetly, and everyone feels like holding hands. This is followed by ‘SPS’, on which Anna Wise’s smooth, pitch-perfect vocals continue to build over a loose, slow beat. Sonnymoon know how to romance the listener but it’s not long before a darker sub-text looms, with ‘Grains Of Friends’ stripping away the colourful textures.
Every track thereafter takes you a step further into Sonnymoon’s world, and more and more the songs become a living art, a comment on Our Times, although not in a concrete lyrical way. Instead, it comes from the intricacy of Dane Orr’s instrumentations, giving Wise’s words a fascinating context, most notably on ‘Pop Music’ and on ‘For Right Now’, which is busy, loud, and then disappears, just like that.
The exception is ‘Sex For Clicks’, Wise singing quietly and mindfully, verse by verse, two lines always repeated: “And they’re all falling for it / No one is really listening at all”. It’s a comment on internet pornography and it is painful to hear the words, which are laid bare by the accompaniment of a solitary piano. The musical restraint emphasises what is clearly a burning passion to communicate. By contrast, ‘Only Face’ gives Wise a chance to sing her heart out in a traditional sense – and it’s a wonderful thing.
Sonnymoon’s previous albums were capricious yet amusing and charming house guests, but ‘The Courage Of Present Times’ is less trippy and more of a journey. The witty twists and wrong turns are not just there to check you are listening, they also contribute to an unfolding narrative. Whatever Dane Orr’s treatment, it is never over-egged or unreasonably unusual and Anna Wise’s voice always has a warm, welcoming tone, although she uses it differently in every track.
This duo will never be predictable as artists, but the odds are they will always produce beautiful music.