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Revivalism of a particular genre can often lead to an oversaturation of similar sounding releases. It’s not always a bad thing however as post-punk had a good run a few years ago and the garage rock revival happening now has produced some amazing work, but it means that artists truly have to step away from the pack in order to gain any attention.
Folk is interesting because its popularity hits in waves and there have been many so-called revival movements over the past hundred years or so. In the beginning of the 20th century folk was pushed aside by jazz, regaining popularity in the 40’s, later pushed aside by rock n’ roll, only to be revived again in the 60’s when artists like Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen cemented themselves into American culture. And now here we are again in the midst of a folk boom brought on primarily by the explosive popularity of indie rock, specifically bands like Fleet Foxes and Sufjan Stevens. But compare the modern music of today’s artists like Joanna Newsom to the songsmiths of old and similarities are hard to come by. Both will typically center their songs around their stringed instrument of choice and both will often tell stories or have interesting lyrical themes, but that's’ really where the likeness ends. Where Highway 61 Revisited was hailed for having electric guitar on it (almost unheard of on a folk record at the time), modern artists can have massive string, horn, and percussion sections as well as digital technology like synthesizers and no one raises an eyebrow unless the music itself is especially compelling. Which brings us to Sun & Moon.
Sun & Moon is a concept album about music, opposites, and connection. The first disc, Sun, features songs that are shorter (although a few are more than seven minutes) and more “typical,” with pop song structures and lyrical themes of nature and love. The second disc, Moon, is almost entirely based on classical compositions: long, ambitious, fully orchestrated, and almost always instrumental. Both sides explore the relationship between the two forms of art, often blurring the lines that separate them.
The album begins with the ambient and spacey opener “Sunrise.” Two long alternate notes grow and add extra instrumentation: violins, glockenspiels, cellos, and eventually a drum kit that pounds thunderously. The melody continually ascends and just before climaxing the plucked harp brings the whole song back and “Song of the Sun” begins. Aptly named considering it epitomizes the sound of the sun disc. A simple vocal line is repeated before a combination of thunderous and clacking drums play with dancing violins while Timbres operatic vocals harmonize with her choir in a lavish display of her musical ability. On “Singing and Singing,” her harp talent is brought to the forefront with a frantic melody that is as much of an earworm as anything you’d hear on the radio. The rest of the Sun portion of the record follows suit with the sound on “Song of the Sun,” well-written progressive folk songs that build and flow like classical pieces.
Continuing with the classical framework set on Sun is the second disc, Moon. While the songs on this half aren’t as immediately engaging as before, they are even more ambitious and are pulled off sublimely. Starting with the ten minute “Sunset (O Lux Beata Trinitas),” Timbre’s intentions are made clear from the get-go. She herself described “Sunset” as “an exploration of the colors of sound, meant to be an experience that aurally depicts the progression of a sunset.” After “Of Cloudless Climes and Starry Skies,” an interlude of sorts, the peak of the album, “St Cecilia: An Ode to Music” begins. In many churches of Christianity, Saint Cecilia is the patroness of musicians. Her story states that as she died, she sang to the heavens and angels sang back. The song begins with a latin incantation praying to the aforementioned saint and while the choir performs their prayer, woodwinds and harp slowly rise. The song climaxes half way through with a rolling melody performed by the whole orchestra accompanied by Timbre’s wails and cries performed with such zeal that chills went down my neck on first listen. Two more pieces follow before the epic seventeen minute conclusion, “Day Boy: Photogen Sees the Moon.”
One of the most interesting progressive folk albums since Have One on Me, Sun & Moon is bursting with ideas and the execution is amazing. Don’t let the almost 2-hour runtime deter you, Sun & Moon is a near-masterpiece that is begging to be listened to and appreciated. Timbre has shown her exceptional talents as a vocalist, musician, composer, and bandleader and I’m sure that we will hear more of her in the future.