Winter can be a time for reflection, the long nights leaving time for thoughts to wander. Cold Moon, the first collaborative album from the Portland based duo of singer/ songwriter Alela Diane and guitarist Ryan Francesconi, is unmistakably a winter album. Recorded during the winter of 2014, the Francesconi’s gentle, looping guitar has at all times a remarkable sense of space – evoking long, empty winter days. These are combined to incredible effect with the rise and fall of Diane’s haunting vocals and lyrics about the passing of time and the cycle of life. The result is unique and powerfully affecting.
Quiet Corner, the album’s opener, sets the tone for the rest of the album with a gently melancholic song about the approach of winter. The gradual slowing of the tempo suggesting the gradual retreat of life and light and the repeated lines: “We never tire of the changing of the seasons,” introducing the theme of the cycle of life. The ending of the song with the lines, “Dark coming in, light fades to black,” providing the first hint that this involves more than just the transition from autumn to winter.
There is then a seamless move into Migration. What starts off as a sparse, contemplative song, seemingly about the experience of moving to a new country and leaving familiar surroundings behind, transforms into a searching, questioning of the meaning of life. This by itself is intriguing but then, as the guitar builds and becomes increasingly distorted, the song breaks into a fiercely, passionate protest against the wastefulness of modern life. In an album of wonderful songs, this is the highlight.
No Thought Of Leaving continues exploring the theme of life’s cycle. The song begins by describing our entrance to the world. “We come here with no thought of leaving, Beginning marks an end, Thrown into the music, Thrown into the light.” In the second half of the song these lines are turned on their head to reflect on our departing: “We leave here with no prior warning, With ending we do begin, We become the music, We become the light.”
Shapeless starts with a slowly mesmerizing repetition of the lines “We can’t hold back the night,” which depicts our inability to fight off the long nights of winter whilst suggesting a darker meaning. This develops into a plaintive chant for a return to the light.
The final song Roy is a gently mournful account of a women coming to terms with her father’s death. This leads into a regretful, meditation on the passing of time: “the dancing of children, is lost as age takes over, what a shame, how we lose such things, in the moving on, and letting go, The ocean is the colour that you saw, the ocean is the colour that will always be.”
This is an album that repays close attention and repeated listening. The music has a deceptively gentle tone that can mask the powerful lyrics and the slowly developing theme of departure. It is also a truly, remarkable album – we can only hope that Diane and Francesconi continue collaborating and make many more like it.
Review by: Alfred Archer
Cold Moon – Out Now via Believe Recordings
Order via: Amazon
As part of a European tour throughout November 2015, Alela Diane and Rory Francesconi will play two UK shows:
10 November: Komedia, Brighton
11 November: Bush Hall, London
For full European dates, please visit: aleladiane.com/home/tour/