A Northern Star, A Perfect Stone is the second album released by Tom Meikle as Forest Moon and the record shows off a much more evolved songwriter. Meikle wonders off the beaten folk path and into the ominous experimental woods with conviction and restraint, keeping the elements of traditional classical and folk within earshot. At face value the record is totally different than The Hunger Strike EP, Meikle’s Forest Moon debut, but resounding vocal melodies and impeccable guitar skills remind the listener, pointedly, who the musician behind it all is.
The first track “Cavern’s Dark” starts off like an ambient post-rock track that would make Explosions in the Sky or This Will Destroy You jealous then Meikle brings in a modified sense of organic melody through calm guitar and vocals heavily laden with effect, the vibe changes to more of a Bon Iver feel with a rising soundscape accented by howling vocals. A tough act to follow but “Nimbin” does it well. Beginning with harmonizing horns that then give away to a more familiar Forest Moon, albeit with a distinctly more mature vocal and instrumentation structures. “Kaeopra” begins with a classical almost Latin picking riff and a complex vocal melody twisting and mingling around it. As the song progress, though a bit disjointed, it’s held together with cool vocal effects- “babababa” –accompanying a lighthearted guitar solo. “I: Scathefire” is a purely instrumental interlude, a homogenous mix of playful, mathy melodic riffs.
“Carbon Scores And Smoke” is an interesting take on sound-making as it begins with a controlled chaos of noise, tapping laced with horns and xylophone keys. The noise gives away to intimate guitar and singing, with classic folky steel guitar running loose in the background, dancing with the horns. It’s a long track that continues to build up and tear down the sound, truly “experimental folk” are the best two words to describe the song. “Unfound” is the Forest Moon sound we fell in love with on the first record. Guitar chords and honest words sung modestly, it’s like if Dallas Green was still trying to write great City and Colour tunes. The most organic and dare I say my favourite track on the record, it ends beautifully with the addition of the horns we have become so familiar with. “II: Leaftail” is the second bridge track on the record. With some toned down ouuu’s behind intricate guitars and a little effects, it is more an exercise for musician and listener both, a palette cleanser to let you refocus for the final few songs.
“Ruin” is a more serious venture than the rest of the record. It’s heavier, more dissonant, with distorted vocals and jarring guitar chugging, finished off by one of these almost customary Meikle classical yet jazzy picking riffs. Very cool to see this dark underbelly of A Northern Star, A Perfect Stone and can only imagine what a live performance of this song would be like. “Peaceful Ghosts” was the premiere single from the album and while it doesn’t fully standout compared to its more unruly neighbours, it holds it’s spot as the second last song with fortitude and represents the new Forest Moon sound well, with Meikle’s advancing vocal range combined with an almost radio-friendly sensibility. “III: Cerulean” opens the closing track with horns and the intimate denouement puts the record to bed with deep lyrics and resounding tones, like dying peacefully in your sleep of natural causes.
With A Northern Star, A Perfect Stone’s complex song structures and intricate melodies, this record isn’t going to be for everyone- but I wouldn’t trust the musical taste of those who don’t like it. Released on December 9, through Toronto area microlabel Epoch Tapes, the album is a meticulously worked out piece of art and impressively shows off a singer-songwriter successfully exploring new territory. Forest Moon avoids the pitfalls of both the folk and experimental music genres by not being too stale or too weird. The record is founded on what feels like a solid foothold in a unique sound and it will be interesting to see where Meikle takes it next.