Blending the present with the past, Half Moon Run’s Salt pays tribute to the band’s humble beginnings. Sprung from the vault, the Montreal-based band breathes new life into a handful of thousands of abandoned demos, compiling a tracklist that serves as the band’s quintessential sound.
While other bands may experiment with new sounds, Half Moon Run have always stayed true to their roots. Salt is their fourth album in their fourteen-year run together, but it sounds as though it could be their first. The evolution of their music is an interesting one. They never stray too far from the familiar, yet there are subtle distinctions within each record that make each of them unique. The tracks on this record are both new and old; discarded demos given a second chance. They break free from the grips of the past because they have been touched by the present. Signature and experimental touches combine to create an album that feels just like coming home.
The record receives its name from the title track, a song that was inspired by the phrase “salt of the earth,” referring to good, honest people. In this case, vocalist Devon Portielje describes it as the foundation of the album. From a giant catalogue of unfinished songs, the band could only choose the ones that represented this idea best. The result is eleven tracks which flow seamlessly from one to the next.
“You Can Let Go” kickstarts the album with a stylistic twist. Instead of the soft vocals that are common in Half Moon Run’s discography, Portielje follows something more akin to spoken word. A rhyme scheme provides him with a new sense of creative freedom, and the result is an enticing opener that paves the way for the succeeding songs.
Portielje describes his songwriting process as a gradual transition from gibberish to a catchy phrase that becomes the base for the rest of the lyrics. Oftentimes, this leads to the creation of fictional tales not necessarily inspired by real life, but born of the singer’s imagination. Tracks three to five encompass this, beginning with a song about a hotel in Memphis to the general “East” to which people are moving. He sings about the heartsick feeling of being left behind and missing people (“I love you / don’t you steal away from me”) which carries over from “Everyone’s Moving Out East” to “9beat.”
Salt comes to a close with “Crawl Back In,” a melancholic and bittersweet tune about coming home. Though comprised of only four verses, it is packed with emotion and imagery. Short and sweet, it is the essential closer to an essential album.
While the band’s music may come off as simple to some, their continued experimentation with different styles and time signatures provides them with the opportunity to grow within an ever-changing indie music scene. Salt is serene, emotional, and nostalgic. It does not try to break free of a mould, but rather celebrates it and the band’s authentic nature.
There comes a point where an artist can claim an essential album—one that captures their very essence—and for Half Moon Run, that album is Salt.
Half Moon Run will perform at History on November 23.