Nightlands, a group led by Philadelphia/North Carolina-based Dave Hartley (The War on Drugs), returns with their first new project in five years: Moonshine. This spacious, ethereal album accomplishes a lot despite its short runtime of 32 minutes. Delineations of genres are hazy at best, with elements of progressive and psychedelic rock pairing with dreamy synth-pop and robotic vocal choruses.
When Moonshine works, it works well. Seemingly disparate influences blend into complex arrangements, wound together in interesting and unexpected ways. “With You” is a triumph because it’s just as effective as background accompaniment as it is for focused listening; countless synths are interwoven together, creating an irresistible groove and seemingly bottomless complexity. Other highlights include the beautiful and haunting synth arrangements featured on “Greenway,” and the complex and multilayered vocal harmonies on “Moonshine.”
Moonshine takes inspiration from the likes of Daft Punk and Mild High Club, which is most clearly seen on the bubbly, arpeggiated synth featured on “Stare Into the Sun.” While these elements work, they never quite develop into a greater sound unique to Nightlands, leaving the album to feel like a mish-mash, unsure of what it wants to be. “No Kiss for the Lonely” is the best example of Moonshine’s sonic indecision. Many genres and influences are pushed together here, and it ranges from interesting contrast to total incongruence – all in the same song.
At its best, Moonshine delivers a dense and intertwined sonic atmosphere, one that you could listen to over and over and still pick out new aspects each time. But at several points throughout the album, this delicate arrangement becomes undone, leaving the result to sound like less than the sum of its parts. This is a big step for Nightlands as they develop their sound – but not the destination.