Half Moon Run Strip Down Their Process While Remaining as Grandiose as Ever on 'Inwards & Onwards'

Half Moon Run Strip Down Their Process While Remaining as Grandiose as Ever on 'Inwards & Onwards'
As the ancient proverb goes, the coolest thing a group of dudes can do is harmonize. Half Moon Run (Conner Molander, Dylan Phillips and Devon Portielje) are known for their meticulously-crafted maximalist arrangements — vocal and otherwise. The Montreal-based band of multi-instrumentalists' second pandemic EP, Inwards & Onwards, bookends 2020's Seasons of Change.

It draws its title from a subverted cliché in the earlier EP's title track: "Onwards and upwards / Gonna find me a better daze." That prior collection's parting promise reflected the introspective journey the band have now embarked on: they've realized in isolation that one must go in before being able to go on, and both of these precede the upwards trajectory.

This latest EP is borne of the ruminative first step in that process. As Half Moon Run's first release since Isaac Symonds decided to leave the group last year, it feels like a back-to-basics reset. Inwards & Onwards sees the trio shift their grandiose orchestral ambitions towards recording, engineering, producing and mixing the project themselves for the first time in their Mile End jam space.

Percussive lead single "How Come My Body" is an opening statement rather than a question, starting and ending acoustically as the band conjugate various punctuations for its brief two minutes and 18 seconds. It's the mahogany ribcage of a beautiful stringed instrument groaning with changes in temperature — existential growing pains necessarily embodied.

"On And On" is the most quintessentially Half Moon Run track — an expansive universe shimmering with possibility. "I listen to growin' / Ebbin' and flowin,'" Phillips sings with the weightlessness of a downy dandelion swaying in the breeze, "Nothin' like knowin' the sun has shone." This nostalgically captures the ethos of the whole project: the quick-quick-slow salsa rhythm of the way time changes us, and the non-linear way these changes are revealed.

The tongue-in-cheek "Fxgiving" recalls 2019's insatiably-catchy "Jello on My Mind" (from their last LP, A Blemish in the Great Light) with its macabre humour. It's all the better considering the irony of how deeply the band members do seem to care about their craft. That tension is laid bare in the track's rhythmic pacing, ascending and descending a modal staircase.

With its folksy harmonica, "Nosebleeds" is begging for a campfire and/or a sea of waving phone flashlights. "It's True" shouts into the void, packing the most roaring crescendo of the bunch, while "Tiny" is a billowing farewell that vows to "keep on keeping on" with a resolved shrug. It's all we can do.

Seasons of Change waxed and waned more dynamically with higher highs and lower lows, while this EP feels a bit more levelled out with lethargy. There are more narrative arcs in the individual songs than in the collection at large: a theme-and-variations on quarantine self-reflection.

Some attempts to be profound can veer off into vague platitudes — under the water but still too near the surface to know its real depth. But that meditative hum has a tendency to turn into epiphany when we least expect it. Here, the biggest lesson for and about Half Moon Run becomes the knowledge that they don't need outside help to engineer their signature lush soundscapes. Their internal world is sprawling and this project proves their aptitude to capture it in-progress.

Inwards & Onwards boldly walks the walk of its title's first half. Having spoken it into existence, we can look forward to seeing where they take the "onwards," while holding onto hope that the upwards ascent will soon follow. (Crystal Math)