As derivative as it may be, Many Moons is still a pleasant listen.
Maturity is a tricky concept to contend with in pop music, a genre that has historically appealed to young people. We’ve so tied the artists’ output with their persona that we expect their work to grow as they do. In some ways, pop artists invite this interpretation; some songwriters only seem capable of writing about themselves, so it’s only fair to become disinterested if it appears that they or their work haven’t aged at all over the course of a decade. Maturity is a concept that seems to be on the mind of Martin Courtney. As the principal songwriter for Real Estate, Courtney has moved from relaxed, carefree vibes (This is a guy who wrote a song whose lyrics are “Budweiser, Sprite/Do you feel alright?”) to late-twenties strife as expressed on Atlas. On Many Moons, Courtney’s first solo album, he explores these themes further, albeit while using a very familiar musical language.
It would seem that a Martin Courtney solo album would be redundant at first, given his position in Real Estate and the fact that he recorded most of the band’s early material by himself. And yes, there is plenty about this album that will conjure comparisons to Courtney’s main project. However, Many Moons shares more with the quiet, introspective singer-songwriter records of the 1970’s than it does with the reverb-laden textures of his old band. In other places, such as the Julian Lynch duet “Asleep,” Courtney’s songs have a hint of late-period Beatles to them. As he reaches middle age, it seems that Courtney’s tastes have aged along with him.
His lyrical focus has shifted, too, if only slightly. Courtney has always been a happily nostalgic songwriter, but Many Moons comes from the perspective of a world-weary soul looking wistfully back at his carefree days with a different lens. On “Foto,” Courtney declares the past to be a dream while declaring, “We’re not the same as who we were before/ Doesn’t matter anymore.” As alluring as the past may be, Courtney seems done with it, more concerned with the anxieties of the present than with retreating into the simple pleasures of his younger days. Granted, that stance is completely at odds with the sort of classicist album that Courtney set out to make with Many Moons, but these pleasant, melodic compositions are just the sort of songcraft Courtney has mastered.
For all of its depth, though, with a runtime of 37 minutes, Many Moons practically breezes by. Aside from a brief instrumental interlude, nothing really breaks up the songs, or Courtney’s chosen aesthetic. Furthermore, the familiarity of Courtney’s influences (as well as his own voice) robs some of the excitement that comes from the solo excursions of his bandmates Matt Mondanile (Ducktails) and Alex Bleeker (Bleeker and the Freaks). As good as it is, Many Moons is definitely something that a discerning listener has heard many times before.
Still, Courtney’s talent is difficult to deny. As derivative as it may be, Many Moons is still a pleasant listen, and Courtney does his best to make the album into something more than just a spirited lark in between proper Real Estate albums. There is growth—or an attempt at growth—within this record. Courtney is slowly embracing his old age with a surprising eagerness; he just needs to find a way to express that in a more singular fashion.