Album review: Moongazing Hare – The Middle Distance

Source: album artwork

Words by Grey Malkin

Moongazing Hare
, the public persona of musician and artist David Folkmann Drost, has been working on the fringes of intimate and experimental psych folk for several years now, to both significant acclaim and accomplishment. Collaborating at times with fellow like-minded travellers such as Trappist Afterland and United Bible StudiesDavid Colohan, innumerable quiet and considered jewels have slipped out from his Copenhagen/ Malmo base, from (arguable) career highlight, 2016’s sculpted and intricate ‘Wild Nothing’ to the more freeform yet no less affecting ‘Marehalm’. One of this writer’s fondest memories is of a couple of summers ago (before plague hit these lands), sitting in a tiny basement venue in Leith, Edinburgh, watching Drost hold an audience rapt, wide eyed and absolutely immersed in a truly mesmerising acapella and acoustic set list. With new release, ‘The Middle Distance’, his aim is for the recording to be ‘a celebration of the joy of community across time and distance, and of the people who have made the last fifteen years of learning to sing my own songs to almost no-one, such a rewarding journey. The songs trace the relationships between homes and bodies; inhabiting, dis-inhabiting, re-inhabiting, longing for and longing out of’. On the evidence of the music contained within, Drost succeeds beyond measure, fusing an imbedded sense of melancholy with a genuine warmth and a depth of humanity. This is music that speaks of what it means to be alive at this point in history, as we warily watch the years tumble away and we are at times held apart from those we should be close to; it talks of the need to find a home constructed of those around us, and of the rebirth and renewal that the cycles of time impose.

‘After Vementry’ opens the album in a hushed and hymnal manner, guitars bowed and echoing around a solitary drum machine beat, with recorder and woodwind notes weeping and weaving across the bruised melody like moths at dusk. Drost’s voice carries the majority of the emotional weight of the song, both deep and steady and yet with an essential human fragility and sense of intimacy. He does not cover his songs in studio trickery or with the smoke and mirrors of sonic effects that can distance the audience and dial down the emotive resonance; here Drost is nakedly human, and utterly and authentically real. ‘King Neutral’s Dream’, with its sweeping and elaborate synth parts and air of gentle sadness, is strong evidence of quietness and restraint being particularly more powerful than a full on aural assault, especially in the right hands. ‘After The Brush Fire’ begins with the broken wail of bowed strings, a distant hand drum and a chorus of contemplative bells and chimes, a mood piece that ably evokes the still, cold eeriness of a winter’s night, clear sharp and with a dark magic. A version of Robert Burns’ ‘The Highland Widow’s Lament’ (perhaps best known by a certain generation for being sung over the opening credits of The Wicker Man) follows, replete with gorgeously layered drones, a steady drummed heartbeat and an understated yet exemplary vocal performance which lifts the song into sacred psalm-like territory, both mystic and ultimately comforting. David Colohan’s whistle adds an undercurrent of Summerisle styled acid folk to what is one of the most perfectly realised contemporary mergers of traditional and modern folk music. 

Next, ‘We Could Live Here’, with its delicate fingerpicking and breathy harmonium wheeze, is wrapped in ghostly whispers and echoes, a haunting and yet heart-warming paean to both finding and creating within our lives a home and a sense of belonging. Vulnerable yet unbowed, here it feels that, although the nerves are exposed, the song is all the more endearing, enveloping and adorned with a simple beauty as a result of this relatability and raw humanity. By turn, ‘Resurrection Bell’ is a starker and more windswept affair, the scree of guitar feedback adding an ominous and unsettling edge that recalls at times the beautiful sadness of the American Music Club. ‘To Make You Stay’ lets the light in once more, an organ led devotional complete with shimmering hints and hues of a Bonnie Price Billy-esque take on country music. The point where the drums enter and lift the song to an entirely new level of intensity is truly a ‘hold your breath moment’.

‘I Am Long Pig’ then takes an unexpected but welcome left field path, with ornate and baroque piano runs and moody analogue synths framing Drost’s voice perfectly, additional bursts of rasping modular effects adding to the otherworldly sense of the piece. There is a strong impression given of floating, untethered and lost yet resigned and without resistance, into the darkness of (inner) space or night. A definite album highlight, it balances the sense of tension and emotional release masterfully, and is both deeply affecting and effortlessly evocative. A sympathetic cover of The Mountain Goats ‘Maize Stalk Drinking Blood’ returns us earthbound with a grounded, yet sensitive, fusing of psych folk and alt country, whilst ‘Before the Smoke Clears’ delivers an unnerving buzz (like a modular electronic swarm) that is met with a variety of vintage synth clicks, chirrups and utterances. Deep within this flutter, a whirling apocalyptic guitar calls out siren like in warning and trepidation, as radio channels briefly flicker into range and are just as quickly gone again. The piece provides an interlude of sorts, a pause that encourages both immersion and contemplation, before finale ‘Between the Calm Remains’ offers the kind of minimal – yet huge sounding – and gentle but anthemic ballad that Drost seems to conjure so effortlessly, not unlike previous Moongazing Hare treasures ‘Wild Nothing’ and ‘Burning Cloud’. Harmonised vocals reassure and reach out; as dark as it can get before the dawn, Drost’s essential humanity and spirit strives to connect and to meet the other. Equal parts heartbreaking and hopeful, damaged but profoundly human, this is music that is utterly authentic, that has its own compassionate, beating heart. 

‘The Middle Distance’ then, is an album to treasure when the nights are way too dark and much colder than they should be, when loneliness is a cloak that cannot be shaken off and when a kind of essential companionship is much needed. The music of Moongazing Hare can be that helping hand, that unconditional friend. Keep this album near, in these times it is a salve much required, its sad eyed beauty and battered hopefulness is something to trust and depend upon. 

Available from Moongazing Hare’s Bandcamp page as a download; copies of individually handmade CDrs can also be ordered, each with a block print by Drost himself.

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