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September 07, 2022 Music » Album Review
Published September 7, 2022 at 10:00 a.m.
(Self-released, digital, vinyl)
The word “soma” has many meanings, but they often overlap. In popular culture, it’s the mind-altering drug allowing the government to control the population in Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel Brave New World. In ancient times, it was an alternate name for the Hindu deity Chandra, god of the moon, as well as a ritualistic drink mentioned in Vedic texts.
Sharon-based post-punk singer-songwriter Tom Weir, who records as Old Moon, front-loads his latest record, Cities of the Plain, with appropriately existential themes in opener “Soma.”
“Soma / Can I forget all the ways I’m dying?” he pleads. Performed entirely by Weir, a swarm of thrashing cymbals and brittle guitars creates a claustrophobic din from which his voice gasps for breath.
Cities lingers on themes of alienation, depression, anguish — all hallmarks of the gloomy post-punk genre. But Weir offsets the darkness with uplifting melodies, creating a dichotomy that seems to say, “I feel like shit, but I’m doing everything I can to feel better.”
After recording the album alone in New Hampshire, Weir sent it to Portland, Ore., for Shaun Durkan of indie rock band Weekend to mix. The San Francisco group is of a similar ilk, processing dark emotions through a humid haze of noise.
Second cut “Eastern Skies” plunges into lethargy compared to the keyed-up “Soma.” “I never felt so far from life,” Weir sings. But his eastward gaze implies renewal, that he anticipates a reprieve from darkness.
Weir says this explicitly on the emo-tinged “Et in Arcadia.” “I’m trying to leave my darker days behind,” he divulges, surrounded by a stream of edgy guitars. His kick drum plods while his cymbals skitter, a restless combination.
Despite the heaviness of its subject matter, Cities gallops by at a nice clip. Weir briefly finds respite on the instrumental “At Dawn.” In under 90 seconds, he creates the sonic equivalent of a watercolor landscape. His tender guitar strokes overlap and bleed into each other, like primary colors creating secondary ones as the lines between them blur.
He confronts the endless comfort of numbness on “Smoke,” a hypnagogic slow dance that closes the record. “I want to breathe in everything that keeps me from myself,” he sings, subtly tying together the first and final songs.
Weir’s doom and despondency are fully justified in 2022, a year when people casually refer to the present day as “the end-time.” Even though he’s dour, his prolific output (seven releases since 2020, plus a forthcoming EP later this month) reminds us that creation is the best way to counterbalance crushing despair.
Old Moon is available at oldmoon.bandcamp.com.
Tags: Album Review, Old Moon, Cities of the Plain
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