Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Sandman’s Orchestra: “Crying For The Moon” (2014) CD Review

The new CD from The Sandman’s Orchestra, Crying For The Moon, the band’s third full-length release, is an unusual album with a sound that is at times haunting, sometimes gorgeous, sometimes even with spiritual flavor (like the uplifting vocal section at the end of the title track). The best way to first appreciate this album is to lie down in the dark and let it play without distraction. Let it take you where it will, or where your mind chooses. “I just love the way we float,” they sing in “Crying For The Moon.”

The Sandman’s Orchestra is composed of an uncle and niece team, Pierre Laplace and Léonie Gabriel. They are based in Lille, France, but the songs are presented in English. All of the tracks are originals, written by Pierre Laplace. Pierre also plays nearly all the instruments on this release, with the exceptions of drums (JB Hoste takes drum duties) and cello (that’s Nicolas Fahy).

The album starts off with “If This Is Our Swan Song.” I love its delicate, pretty opening, even before Léonie Gabriel’s gorgeous vocals come in. (Of course, there is something amusing about the first line of an album mentioning it being the swan song.) There is something in the song’s sound that gives it a great timeless feel, giving the impression that this could have been composed a few hundred years ago. And so if you let it, this track will take you out of your day’s concerns, transport you from your current surroundings.

In the following track, “No Other Way,” the male and female vocals work together in an interesting way, particularly when Pierre hits the lower notes while Léonie’s vocals take on an airy quality, making the song both grounded and ethereal, part earth, part sky. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “There’s evil on the road/There’s beauty and grace/She walks past places darkened by fear/Haunted by dreams of falling/And she knows there is no other way.”  The instrumental section has a beautiful, dark feel, helped greatly by the presence of cello. And then partway through, the addition of banjo gives the song a lighter, brighter feel, which carries it to the end. And it’s this last section that is actually my favorite part of the song.

One of my favorite tracks on this release is “The Rememberer.” This one has an oddly haunting vibe. One thing that’s interesting is how in certain sections of this song, different instruments add little touches, accents, rather than acting as constant voices. There is even a kalimba. In those moments, I have images of a tribe, each member contributing some small but important part to a ritual. That being said, it’s the vocals that really pull me into this track.

Pierre’s vocal approach to “Sands Of Time” makes me think of Donovan (particularly his work in the late 1960s) and also a bit of Belle And Sebastian. “A blanket of grass and branches underneath the moon/We lie there waiting for a ghost to come round/Promises and pledges, secrets that we share/While the stars light up the deep summer sky.”

My favorite track, “1949,” comes on as a sweet folk song, akin to something Joni Mitchell might have done years ago. Léonie sings, “I rode a train through the winter landscape/Sleepy towns, churches and frozen lakes/When I got to your place I saw the changes.” Then the banjo comes in, automatically causing me to smile. Those strange breaks between sections, with Pierre’s vocals, are interesting. They’re darker, so they make the switch back to the main sections even more effective, due to that contrast. Then there is a pretty instrumental section with guitar and piano to end this song. This is one of my favorite songs of the year.

“Black River Moan” then goes is a very different direction, with more of an angry pulse, a disturbed sound, which is intriguing. “The night dragged you along/We got to the black river and I watched you drown/You sank without a sound.”

Crying For The Moon concludes with “Now The Circle's Broken,” which ends with a really sweet, pretty instrumental section.

CD Track List

  1. If This Is Our Swan Song
  2. No Other Way
  3. The Rememberer
  4. Crying For The Moon
  5. Sounds Of Time
  6. 1949
  7. Black River Moan
  8. The Silent Kind
  9. Man In The Shade
  10. Now The Circle’s Broken

Crying For The Moon was released on November 14, 2014. You can check out the music on The Sandman's Orchestra's Bandcamp page. By the way, the album's artwork was done Félix Laplace, Pierre's sixteen-year-old son. Pretty cool.

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