The Crimea - Square Moon | Album Review | By Volume

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The Crimea

Square Moon

The Crimea sign off with an indie-pop classic: sharply elusive, smoothly beguiling, and gorgeous.

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Author: on July 30, 2013
July 29, 2013

They twisted into the room on a current of charming, ever-so-mildly cryptic observations, softly spoken but sure-footed, moments of real, stunning what-the-fuck punctuating an electric sort of calm, a hand across a shoulder, a slight delay on the look-away-now, and where did you get? Sometimes other things pull the star-crossed into different universes. How gutting can a goodbye feel? In flickers of over-eager nostalgia, and alternative timelines piling up, what when the goodbye is part of the hello, and all of a sudden a book is closed? Hold it dear and hope that what it counts for stays simple? Pull them back and say, hey, don’t go?

That I don’t write for Rolling Stone affords me the privilege of admitting I was oblivious to The Crimea until July 2013. How this is the case remains a mystery to me. But I’d like to write from this position of ignorance because it’s the real one that I hold; it’s how I heard Square Moon and it’s how I’ll continue to hear it even after I venture backwards and learn my way around the relationship’s ugly or boring or unexpected sides. There will be no forwards momentum to this liaison, as Davey MacManus drops his songwriting pen in a sharp items bag and boards a plane to South Africa to help set up an orphanage for poor children.

The entrance sets the tone: disarming, unassuming and undeniably enticing. But “Petals open when reached by sunlight” is not the album, its mellow ambience and calm reflections doing nothing to suggest its anomalous status, before a burst of muffled funfair gives way to the sprinkles that shuffle in “Last plane out of Saigon”. This is the album’s soul, here: a rhythmically alluring pop song with a hundred tender quips and one solemn riddle. “Keep travelling east so it never gets dark; follow your heart / wherever the damn thing goes / I’m sorry / Just don’t wanna be alone.”

Square Moon follows its own advice and the sky stays true blue, though the ominous Latin chants on “Witches Broom” test that promise aesthetically. And rarely do The Crimea feel joyous; “You never smile for the camera”’s heart-stoppingly blunt chorus – “You were always the brightest kid in school / Alison, Alison, Alison / God knows what they did to you” – is as fist-clenching as they come, but still impossible to rally. It’s nothing of an anti-climax; the result is a tempered album which buzzes with feeling but never alienates or gives too much away.

That buzz takes many forms, from Nada Surf to Paul Simon, from King Blues-style spoken-word to Bright Eyes and from The Format to some other corner. But the rise and fall, lifted and dropped by violins, ambience, rhythm shifts, vocal harmonies and keys, belies a more delicate construction than those crude reference points, which fleet and flicker with frequency. Through falling in love with this eclectic masterpiece, I’ve forgotten to note down the names of fifteen more influences because I was carried away by the next beautiful passage or motif. Square Moon is positively not the product of anything but artistic fluidity; it’s too big, too quick to move on, too blissfully unaware of its own floating textures.

“I played the starving peasant / I played Marie Antoinette / The snow, our skin, like porcelain / You promised me the end,” – the final whisper in the ear and the last barb to grasp at comes cloaked much like what it closes, neither declaratory nor opaque, neither giving nor entirely concealed. A Stars-like vocal trade-off amid trembling, light percussion drifts off into the ambient patter of just-audible keys, and The Crimea are gone. It leaves a mark; Square Moon is not the album you jump to restart once it’s finished, but it is one that, after a few minutes of reflection, you almost need to. When the charge wears out, I’ll wander backwards and recap things I never saw; for the time being, it’s the long goodbye on loop.

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