Sandmoon - raW
Owain Paciuszko 27/11/2010
Hide Away opens this album elegantly with nods to the likes of P. J. Harvey going alt-country, the arrangment of the track plunges you straight into the fray, building upon the introduction of each instrument with considerable skill, but it all centres around Sandra Arslanian's vocal, which lends just the right suggestion of defiance to this, ultimately easy-going tune.
Sandra's piano which cropped up on the opening track's choruses to great effect takes a more prominent role on the jazzy country ballad Be With Me, where her voice sways closer to Norah Jones, though on the choruses the hint of emotion just breaking through as she sings 'Allow yourself to love' is what holds this track togther. Unfortunately the theatrics in her delivery on Maddening Day don't work as well, the track is a simple arrangment of Sandra's voice and piano and whilst her performance is strong there's something a little limp about the track overall that keeps the listener at an arm's length. Meanwhile Cry of the Ocean is very reminscent of Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie-era Alanis Morissette and whilst the percussion is particularly interesting, layering burbling bongo sounds over slow, pensive piano lines; Sandra's vocals seem content to trail around this musical backdrop with a certain improvisational abandon that doesn't really work.
Fortunately the lightweight, jazzy tone of Sheherazade brings things back to form, there's a kind of woozy romantic air to the track familiar to Ryan Adams' Answering Bell, whilst the texturing of Sandra's lead and backing vocals works beautifully. Interlude is a roughly recorded piano piece, that contrasts against the crisper - and less effective - sound of Sea of Love which, Bechir Saade's sleepy saxophone aside, is a reasonably insipid ballad that coasts along without going anywhere either musically or emotionally.
Guitar lines that sound like fuzzy synths enliven Solitude, a track which works in fits and starts, a tad too anonymous on its monotonous verses and then not developing enough into the despair it hints at on the choruses. The title track has the feel of Aimee Mann on the choruses of 'When the time comes will you be as malicious or brave faced in your death', the light Jon Brion-esque piano sound a nice contrast to the lyrics that talk about war and violence and corruption. After the jittery, pacy Anything Wrong, closing track Dead of Jericho finishes the album with a stripped down acoustic ballad that drops in a reference to 'listening to Bright Eyes' and not much else to grab the attention, the lyrics occasionally borderline nonsensical or a tad mawkish.
Occasionally Sandmoon's alt-country sound works wonderfully, the first couple of tracks on this record being particularly strong, but at other times their sound is either disposably pleasant or, at worst, particularly bland and - whilst never offensive or grating - is guilty of passing by without so much as holding the listener's attention. But, for a self-produced LP this is a reasonable effort.