I feel a tad bit patriotic as I listen to the auto-tuned melodies of “Moonshine” by Nightlands aka Dave Hartley. Perhaps it’s the Star-Spangled banner riff, perhaps it’s the night air. Perhaps you should listen to the tune and find out for yourself. That might be a bit bossy but whatever, right?
Nightlands – the project of Dave Hartley from The War On Drugs – announces his new album, Moonshine, out July 15th on Western Vinyl, and shares a video for the title track. Amid massive global paradigm shifts Hartley became a father twice over and left his native Philadelphia for Asheville. From the newfound refuge of a studio he built using the bones of a barn attached to his hundred-something-year-old house in the mountains, Hartley has tailored a collection of well-crafted dream pop, pointedly titled Moonshine. Guided by some of the harmonic sensibilities that have helped make The War On Drugs a force in modern music, Moonshine combines immaculate-yet-dense vocal stacks and billowy clouds of effected keyboards with classic songcraft, revealing previously unseen acreage in the unfurling dreamscape that is Nightlands.
Throughout the album, there are plenty of buoyant high moods where the pitter-patter of drum machine and humming digital organ hints at Hartley’s low-key tropicalia streak, but the lyrics anchor the dreaminess in real-world sorrow and resignation. Nowhere are these sentiments more apparent than on “Moonshine,” a nearly acapella recitation of “America the Beautiful” that poignantly hovers over a mirage of soft keyboards before dovetailing into Hartley’s own words about the hypocrisy of the American dream. “This was never intended to be an overtly political record,” he admits. “I have so many friends who are able to process the frustration of current events gracefully or with wisdom or in a nuanced way, but I often find myself just consumed with anger about it all. I decided to just let that come out, and it manifested itself lyrically.” Moonshine‘s wide-eyed, utopian instrumental backdrops provide sharp contrast to Hartley’s lyrics, which sting even harder within the sweetness.
In terms of instrumentation, Hartley pared things down as much as possible, choosing to allocate all of Moonshine’s density to his vocal harmonies, the layers of which number in the hundreds on some songs. “I spend ninety percent of my studio time building these vocal stacks with sort of endless vocal layering and lots of speeding up and slowing down of the track, overdubbing at different speeds and with different microphones,” Hartley details, “and I really perfected that, I think, on this record.”
Even in light of the album’s vocal emphasis, Hartley’s history as a bassist brilliantly beams through Moonshine, giving effortless and sprightly movement to songs. In addition to Western Vinyl labelmate and saxophonist Joseph Shabason, the album hosts a short list of remote collaborators including four of Hartley’s bandmates from The War on Drugs, Robbie Bennet, Anthony Lamarca, Eliza Hardy Jones, and Charlie Hall, as well as exotica virtuoso Frank Locrasto (Cass McCombs, Fruit Bats), and producer Adam McDaniel (Avey Tare, Angel Olsen). Hartley was forced to keep the guest list small out of the necessity of pandemic isolation, coupled with his move to a smaller city, all of which challenged him to do most of the album’s heavy lifting right down to the mixing duties, resulting in the most independent effort of his career. By that measure, Moonshine is also the clearest image yet of Dave Hartley as a person and creator.
1. Looking Up
2. Down Here
3. Stare Into the Sun
6. With You
7. Blue Wave
8. No Kiss for the Lonely
9. Break My Bones
10. Song for Brad