Mooncreatures - Sand Maps
(2014 Balloon Festival)
Only a summer's passed since their sophomore outing, Gaslamps, but UK-based shoegaze outfit Mooncreatures has already returned with another dose of ambient pop. This time around, the duo have decided to press their tape on a brand-new label of their own, Balloon Festival, named after a track on their self-titled EP. The cassette's design is stunning, its black sleeve stark against the tape's shell - the neon green hue of a stick of mint gum. It's a fitting aesthetic considering the signature blend of dream-pop patented by the band; translucent, yet impenetrably minimal.
The vaporous lull of opening tracks "(sea cure)" and "Salt Sea" hangs foggily, forever expanding into obscurity against sparse percussion and distant vocals that echo like whispers in a cathedral. Taking cues from Robin Guthrie of the Cocteau Twins, a glistening chorus effect lines the overcast ambience that seeps from Mooncreature's guitars. Following those two tracks is a surprising outlier in the duo's discography, a gnarled and distorted cut that captures the craggy tone often associated with Dinosaur Jr. and Superchunk. It's a welcome change that does a good job of splitting the album in two. If you've followed Mooncreatures over the past couple years, Sand Maps is a must-have release, further improving upon their unique brand of songcraft. If you haven't, this album is probably the best place to start, offering the most variety in the band's trilogy of tapes.