Living in a cabin on the edge of the Mojave desert, M. Craft discovered that isolation loves a soundtrack.
Without the usual urban chaos to disturb the natural order, the volume of the eco-system rose on everything within earshot – a daily orchestration of animals and elements in organic harmony. Staying alone in Joshua Tree, the noises of the city fading from nagging tinnitus to distant memory, Canberra born/London resident Martin found himself tuning into the unmuted sounds of the natural world for the first time in years.
“The silence around Joshua Tree is other-worldly, deep, almost impossible,” he says. “But once immersed in this silence, you notice that it’s not really silence at all. Little flecks of sound, which would have gone unheard on a city street corner, become like splashes of neon. The rustle of wind in a smoke-tree, the hoot of an owl, the beating wings of a passing crow, all become vivid, important. Musical.”
M. Craft’s previous records have been influenced by city living. Recorded in pre-gentrification Dalston, 2003’s mini-album I Can See It All Tonight featured On The 389 — a none-more-glorious love letter to a Sydney bus route that stretched out lazily across a Tropicalia backbone. Elsewhere, Last Leaf of Summer (from 2009’s Arrows At The Sun) plots a bike through season’s change in Hackney over ebbing and flowing picked guitar. All the while though, Martin’s records have displayed a sense of self-set loneliness (check Dragonfly from the first full length M. Craft album Silver and Fire for a masterclass in stargazing campfire acoustics).
Blood Moon – M. Craft’s third full album — is very much a score for seclusion. Inspired by witnessing the titular lunar event twice during his time as a desert resident, Blood Moon began life in a studio in nearby Los Angeles as a series of unstructured, experimental piano pieces.
“I’d long been planning a piano-based record and I found a recording studio in Echo Park with a hundred-year-old Mason and Hamlin concert grand piano. I simply sat down and improvised, with no plans or direction. Over a few months of these sessions, I ended up with several hour-long pieces of piano music. Taking everything back to the desert, I started to carve shapes from these pieces and songs started to form.”
If the songs on Blood Moon have been hacked from bigger pieces, the technique used to craft them is exemplary. Over its ten tracks, the album occasionally echoes the ghost forms of Talk Talk’s peerless Laughing Stock and the hymnal beauty of Sufjan Stevens’ Seven Swans. Mainly though, it’s Craft’s own unique meditation. Constructed from those piano recordings with additional percussion from another temporary desert dweller, Seb Rochford (Polar Bear) and occasional orchestration, Blood Moon is a stunning fusion of freeform instrumental explorations and properly pure songs.
Bookended by instrumentals (the scene-setting New Horizons and eleven-minute, astral-projecting freeform piece Mind Waves), Blood Moon features arguably the finest songs Martin Craft has ever written. The album’s two centerpiece tracks – Love Is The Devil and Me And My Shadow – could have been written by a beaten-down Bacharach, alone and drained of spirits while Dream On (Where Go The Dreams) is Badalamenti’s Twin Peaks soundtrack relocated to the great wide open of the Californian desert. The creation of that mood was Martin’s main aim in making the album.
“I hope the record takes the listener off into the clear night air of Joshua Tree, that profound, neon-flecked silence, the star-spangled skies of the Mojave desert, under that lonely little sphere of rock caught in a red shadow.”
Blood Moon does that and so much more. It’s a record from and for the small hours and Martin Craft’s best record to date.
Cabin fever has never sounded so good.