Equally poignant and playful, it is an absolutely impeccable collection of vignettes, sketches, & interludes
– Stationary Travels
Nathan Shubert (they/them) is devoted to the album form and is clear that music doesn’t need a narrative justification; it works as pure emotional expression. “The way listeners react is different from how I felt when I was composing”. React they did; Folds was featured on some of the biggest playlists around, leading to a successful European tour around the release of Nathan’s 2019 album When You Take Off Your Shoes. Shubert sees The Moon From Here as the final part of the trilogy, one they had the initial spark for as they returned from Europe in 2019.
As with so many plans, reality proved to be quite different. A difficult breakup combined with the pandemic led to a serious mental health crisis. Progress on the album stalled as they struggled with severe depression and anxiety. “The thing with depression is that although you might know what to do to make yourself better, your brain is so stuck that taking care of yourself is the last thing you want to do”.
Only the opportunity to take online piano lessons with an inspiration of theirs Lubomyr Melnyk proved irresistible and Shubert says these were transformative, helping them to get back into making music. “Those lessons with Lubomyr might have actually saved my life. They definitely changed it”. Melnyk’s intense polyrhythmic music is “literally the opposite” of Shubert’s style but the philosophy and meditative process that underlies it helped Shubert find a new balance, and work on The Moon From Here was renewed.
Shubert is wary of connecting their story directly with the music, saying “it’s so reductive”. They admit that the circumstances of its composition were part of what shaped it but points out that “I’d already outlined the album, decided how it was going to sound and feel.”
Aside from the familiar felted piano and field recording sounds that shaped the previous two albums, a key new element was the emphasis of synths, specifically a 1982 Juno 6, Moog Grandmother, Korg Volga Beats, and Rhodes. Each instrument is introduced in album opener Shallows, which is immediately followed by the centrepiece of the album, Unspoken, an emotional powerhouse of a piece and a real thesis statement. The emotional range of the subsequent tracks runs from the desperately bleak All Around to the thoughtful contemplation of If Ever and the gentle beauty of Iona.
The very existence of this album is evidence that Shubert found a way to coexist with anxiety and depression. The resulting work is a gorgeous, mellifluous reflection on loss and the nature of the individual in a time of upheaval, entrancingly captured on felted piano, synth and binaural field recording.
The album closes with a note of curious optimism. The final track With, Without is surely a shoe-in for piano playlists, but Shubert is wary of oversimplifying the piece: “After listening to a good amount of dark music, I hope the listener will be somewhat suspicious of the optimism of this piece. Some people who have struggled with mental illness have learnt to be distrustful of positive life moments”.
The Moon From Here is an album for our times, a powerful reflection on loss and the nature of the individual, created at a time of private and societal upheaval. Full of beauty and sadness, its gentle tone will captivate all fans of contemporary instrumental music.