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Only the Blues is an introduction deferred, and it is the debut album by Dylan Moon. Across its 35 minutes, we are rarely made to understand what, exactly, the source of Moon’s blues is, how that feeling has mutated, or whether there is a life beyond the small rooms and cramped spaces where this music was made. If not opaque, this first meeting with Moon is at least hazily translucent.
This makes Only the Blues something of an esoteric response to an age of radical transparency. Broadly speaking, Moon works in the field of folk music. But from this pasture, he glances pathways to digression; seeking scenic routes and counterintuitive cartography, trusting that even the most aimless trip becomes lucid if the foggy details are documented well enough.
On this trip, images spill from Moon, and most of them seem foreboding. We are given the sense - both from his lyrics and from the viscous mood he creates, using electronic manipulation to send his songs down compositional egresses, from which they emerge with a mysterious residue - that things have not been going well. Even the most saccharine memories, dancing before a freshly lit fire or hanging out with childhood cartoons come to life, feel caked with a hidden history.
Moon studied electronic production and sound design at music school, and then moved to Los Angeles in hopes of working in the film industry. While simultaneously graduating from pop to psych to prog to beat-making, he returned to traditional songwriting on the west coast, working out his ideas over a pair of self-released EPs. He also stumbled upon an ancient drum machine with scratched contact points and seventy years spent under restless thumbs, finding a kind of sonic entropy in its past-futurist rhythm signals that serve as Only the Blues’ spiritual center.
The album was recorded in Moon’s bedrooms in L.A. and Boston, small spaces made more claustrophobic by the soundproofing he hammered into the doors and the bedding he leaned against the walls. A single soul, spinning away (and out) in a cramped room: It’s a state of mind — and being — that Moon used his formal training to refine across Only the Blues. This is an album ornate with so many musical ideas to express that it teeters between ecstasy and anxiety.
That anxious quality is also what makes Only the Blues endlessly captivating. Moon moves quickly, courting the madcap at the center of his songs and just as quickly retreating to the fray. Processed guitars appear for a measure and disappear. His voice, a brittle croon reaching reedy highs and bottoming out into throaty baritone, wears tape hiss like a scarf while gently interlocking instrumental figures go nude below. The drum machine melts into a puddle of reverb.
Only the Blues uses obfuscation as a mode of confession, so long as we mean “confession” in the conventional sense. Moon is not hiding, but he is deliberately deciding: choosing how to be vulnerable, how to reveal, when to let go, when to move on. It’s not the way we usually meet one another. Maybe it should be.
A1. Hope Dog
A2. Death Warmed
A5. A Witch
A7. Blue Jean
B2. Song For Jerry
B5. Faraway Places
B6. Morning Limbo
B7. Mind Troubles