Album review: Martin Courtney’s “Many Moons”

Martin Courtney, of Real Estate fame, delivers homage to suburban life in its comforts and flaws on his debut solo album “Many Moons.” Also, as a fellow New Jersey-ite I felt it my duty to commend Courtney’s performance on the album for exemplifying the experience of nostalgia and melancholy that young suburbanites feel when visiting home or being away for a while. In this way, listening to “Many Moons” feels like the three hour train or bus ride that I make for Thanksgiving or Winter break—where the excitement of returning is juxtaposed by the reasons one left in the first place. The album captures the comfort these visits provide and the sad knowledge that not everything is the same as was when you left. “Many Moons” evokes an undoubtedly hipster sense of malaise that is somewhat characteristic of indie-rock. Yet, throughout the occasionally over indulgent album, Courtney brings smooth and pleasant melodies that, in the absence of strong lyricism, give its tracks a sense of artistic ennui.
In this endeavor, Courtney fluctuates between moods that recall the sounds of Neil Young, Roy Orbison and Guster. The singer-guitarist makes his strongest impressions on songs like “Airport Bar,” “Vestiges,” and “Foto.” Additionally, while “Northern Lights” is surely the album’s most listenable song, it is also probably the most indulgent in Courtney’s largely self-serving effort on “Many Moons.” However, “Airport Bar” exemplifies the transient feeling only found in airport bars where lonely travelers sit in silence, drinking and thinking about the past. Courtney is his most critical on “Vestiges,” whose smooth and dreamlike psych-pop production contrasts with ambivalent suburban nostalgia and faded images of “cracked car parks, abandoned malls” or “Black mold basements and fenced in yards.” The singer speaks for the suburban childhood experience, calling upon the symbols that represent our minds’ conception of former youth as an adult—for example, the giant parking lot at the local grocery store or a friend’s moldy basement. On “Foto,” Courtney imparts the simple but true message that permeates “Many Moons,” like the person in the passport photo taken at age 14, indicates that “You’re not the same as who you were before.”
“Many Moons” is an album that requires the listener to digest it in its entirety, as the message of its songs weave a narrative that engages suburbia and the experience of growing up. As a whole, Courtney’s debut album fits cliché of “musical bildungsroman” utilized by many artists across different genres. The album tells the story of Courtney’s youth in retrospect, framing it against the formative experience of moving away from your parents’ house and out of suburbia altogether.
While some of the tracks on “Many Moons” tend to blend together at times, the overall message is achieved and delivers poignancy to the reserved indie/folk-rock sensibility. Musically, the album is both intricate and subtle, a style that suits the artist’s minimal lyricism. Soporific bass, simple drums, and complementing guitars give Courtney and “Many Moons” the indie-rock label it deserves, but strong production elements and electronic effects achieve the surreal sound that call upon the genres of neo-psychedelia and dream pop. Surely, “Many Moons” has its flaws, but Courtney understands his audience and speaks to their experience with truth and clarity.

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