The ‘Wishing on Satellites' EP by Man Made MoonReview
Like so many of the best local original artists, releases from Man Made Moon come along insufficiently frequently to meet our wishes but are all the more welcome when they do arrive: equally this is a token of the care put into them. Their ‘Wishing on Satellites' EP will be released on 12th August: my first chance to write about them since reviewing "Where The Stars Fall" back in November 2020.
Since then, the lineup has changed a little and now consists of songwriter Ben Taylor on rhythm guitar & vocals, Gary Ryan playing bass guitar, Simon Gough on lead guitar and drummer Chris Samworth. In addition Martin Stephenson guests on keyboard, piano & guitar on the song "Guide Me Home", John Garrett plays keyboards on "Dear Love, Dear Life", "Day Trips To The Moon" and "Back In the Big Time", Adam Schumacher provided the opening sample on "Dear Love, Dear Life" and Jill Davis on "Day Trips to the Moon". Having slipped the titles of four of the five tracks into that list, I need to add the final one's name: "Let the Good Times Flow".
Recorded and mixed at Complete Sounds in Leamington, I appreciated the nod to Billy Bragg in the EP title & once again Man Made Moon have taken us out of Warwickshire and into the aether and beyond.
I've written plenty of times before in describing my reactions to their songs of their evocation of the more metaphysical aspects of our lives by transporting us from the concrete & earthbound into realms where they have "…slipped the surly bonds of Earth and danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings.." and they do not disappoint in this respect once again.
Man Made Moon have always been very tasteful & strategic in adding higher (female) harmonies to accentuate the above tendencies: think back to how Lucy Stanton graced "Weightless" back in 2019: an approach made all the more valuable by not over-using it. Here, Jill's vocals on "Day Trips to the Moon" reminds us of that song in its fragile beauty but in service of a very human & touching song which is certainly not in the realm of fantasy nor one listeners cannot aspire to. In fact it seems to be set by the (British) seaside and the band transport us thence to higher planes through the agency of love: one of their most realised metaphors in their repertoire. I don't know if they are intending to release a single from the EP, but this must be a contender.
The record opens with a sample which not only name checks the band (courtesy, as I mentioned above, of Adam Schumacher), but sets the scene for the whole EP and first of all, possibly the heaviest of their songs to date: "Dear Love, Dear Life", a very blues rock song which has a little of the apocalyptic which Jimi Hendrix spotted in "All Along the Watchtower" when even its composer didn't: a song of trying for optimism in the face of the trials & ominous portents of life.
"Let the Good Times Flow", which follows, is another taut & weighty tune: the sort of track I often express a liking for where there is tension created by space & the instruments add urgent but restrained stabs of energy: again with that vague sense of unease and dread which characterised the previous song: an exhortation to enjoy life "while ye may".
The central track, "Guide Me Home" is a complete change of tone (preparing us for "Day Trips to the Moon" which succeeds it). The edgy & almost paranoid feel which we have had to date is succeeded by something more overtly optimistic in the form of a "big" rock ballad which grows in classic style (I kept on thinking about what it reminded me of, but no obvious single model sprung to mind), which instruments & dynamics gradually joining in: one of Ben's best vocals & another obvious option for consideration for a single.
The EP ends all too soon with "Back in the Big Time": a graceful and I think genuine conversion to faith in life & fortune: I'm not entirely sure how far the definition of "big time" is intended: their musical career or life generally? At any rate, Ben expresses happiness with where he is now & the gorgeous arrangement reinforces this.
I suppose, taking a cue from the opening sample, man Made Moon have taken us along an arc in these five songs: from fear to gaining courage from love, consequent optimism and acknowledging in the final song that we are on journeys (am I right to hear echoes of the teachings of Gurdjieff here?) and that harmony and contentment can be found here on earth, even if looking upwards & beyond the mundane can inspire us to grow.
Man Made Moon are back: they've travelled a bit since we last heard from them & its informed their music & they are better than ever