Moon Moon Moon
Running away from a party, getting into a car crash and falling into a coma where animals dance and rip their skins off, accompanied by old distorted Disney soundtracks while facing loss and love right in the face. In other words, just another album by Moon Moon Moon.
The Dutch alternative act's album Silly Symphonies isn’t merely a collection of songs. These are vivid scenes, with field recordings, recurring motifs and sounds acting out specific characters, each with their own little arc and within a bigger unfolding universe. Some names have been altered for dramatic purposes, but as a whole, Silly Symphonies – named after a series of Disney shorts from the 1930s – is as disarmingly intimate and personal as anything the band has released.
Since recording under the moniker Moon Moon Moon, Mark Lohmann has been known for his bold, endlessly witty, and shockingly sincere bedroom folk. Initially, Lohmann’s homespun songs channeled feelings of alienation and desire in abstract fashion, drawing comparisons to artists such as Phil Elverum, Sufjan Stevens, Conor Oberst and Elliott Smith. After years of prolific writing and recording independently, Moon Moon Moon’s whole creative approach shifted with Lohmann’s self-described journal entries. These free-form songs became sanctuaries for his most uncomfortable, embarrassing and impulsive thoughts. Each entry was recorded in the single day, accompanied by lyric videos adorned by Lohmann’s often macabre, whimsical animations.
Subjects varied from Animal Crossing, Stranger Things to Emma Stone, with Lohmann stumbling from wry observations into deeper reflections with wholesome abandon. To his own surprise, the disarming honesty of these journal entries helped Moon Moon Moon gain a bigger audience. Suddenly, this shy self-effacing, bedroom recording artist was striking a much bigger nerve. From here on out, it made sense for Lohmann to expand Moon Moon Moon as a full collaborative project.
The bulk of Silly Symphonies was developed with arranger/keyboard player Stef Koenis: other than the grainy Disney Soundtracks, the duo found mutual inspiration in iconic film composers such as Danny Elfman and John Williams. By marrying Lohmann’s more abstract recording instincts with Koenis’s gift for symphonic arrangements, Moon Moon Moon became an audiovisual, world-building entity. The music originated with both of them having specific images in their heads: they gathered compatible images on Pinterest that inspired a storybook-like backdrop for Lohmann’s real-life trials and tribulations. Each song unfurled like a detail-filled set piece with recurring sound and melodies surfacing and retreating as sentient characters, with the music “Mickey Mousing” certain moods and actions.
Koenis: “Within the first year of working together on the album, we were still just experimenting with sounds. But also figuring out how to fit orchestral elements into Moon Moon Moon-music. Rather, it was a voyage of discovery of types of instruments, playing techniques, timbres, consonances, functions and everything the orchestra has to offer. And then try to fit that in with MIDI (because we didn't have an orchestra at our disposal after all) and get a kind of corrupted version of beautiful Danny Elfman music in return. But we also thought that was cool, such a DIY-orchestral atmosphere.”
“The general story I sent Stef was basically a Disney film gone wrong,” Lohmann comments. “You have these big, splendid arrangements, but also these darker, more undefined elements lurking beneath.” “First Snow” immediately puts our fickle protagonist in an intrusive setting: a house party where he’d rather not be. “So I’m sitting there with this guy going on /“Why is it three times ‘moon’ and not just once?” / I’m drinking Cola, generic brand / And I want him to stop talking about my band”. The song ends with him leaving the party and getting into a car accident, sending him into a deep, dark coma.
From this moment on, dream world and reality form an uneasy alliance on Silly Symphonies. As the story unravels, the protagonist slowly comes out of his dejected, cynical shell. The album’s wholesome title track reluctantly welcomes in harsh club-inspired cadence from the other room into Lohmann’s more familiar big-hearted alt folk leanings. Slowly but surely, the discord on Silly Symphonies seems to dissolve. Thematically, it traces Lohmann’s own quest for belonging, to gradually allow others into his world.
The bummer anthems, stumbling self-interrogations and sprawling monologues still get their moment in the sun. But as the strings, brass, glockenspiels and timpani come barging in, the chaos of Lohmann’s headspace gets harmonized, rearranged and properly channeled. The listener is guided through the grand waltz of “Hell”, the romantic, sonorous balladry of “Midsummer Festival” and the angelic folk pop of “Wrapped Around”: these songs are unrepentantly triumphant in their naked, unvarnished emotion. “Strange, Strange Night”, a track narrated by a spoken word artist Lohmann incidentally found via a Reddit channel, further amplifies Silly Symphonies as a twisted fairy tale converted to a record.
The euphoric “Forest Ln. 16” was penned during a month-long creative stint where Lohmann forced himself to write one song per day. When he demoed the song, the normally reclusive songwriter found himself living in a student flat among other frolicking inhabitants. I recorded the guitar part with my iPhone earphones, which also made it in the final version. You can also hear people talking in the background. Their original names were still in the demo, but have been changed to animal names in the lyrics. But the feeling that I have found my place just felt real at that moment.”
After a heartfelt goodbye, our protagonist awakens from his long arduous slumber on “Allows”, while “Bedroom Choirs” lives up to its lofty name, with many of Lohmann’s past collaborators – including Clean Pete, Vic Willems and Robin Kester – joining in. As it turns out, Moon Moon Moon is no longer just one person stuck with himself.