Let’s just get it out of the way right now: This is not the same Moving Mountains that was behind the metal-driven, hard-hitting Waves. Okay, maybe it technically is, but to compare this band’s newest self-titled release to their last album, you’d hardly believe that it was the same band. Even to compare Moving Mountains with the older releases Pneuma and Foreword seems a slight, because the two styles are so vastly different.
The first few times you spin this album, it’s easy enough to let the songs fall into the background. At first, they simply sound like the sort of songs you’d hear in the background of a CW drama with impossibly beautiful teens. The sort of song with breathy, earnest vocals, acoustic guitars, and one angsty line that really resonates, but other than that, it doesn’t really stick with you. On the surface, much of this album sort of sounds like that. Once you really listen, once you give it the time it’s due, it completely opens up and draws you in. It’s one of the most beautiful and cerebral albums I’ve heard yet this year.
Lest you think that this entire album is only full of muted, acoustic crooners, Moving Mountains still packs enough startling moments of lively movement that break through the reverie. That’s immediately apparent from tracks like “Seasonal”. Its opening is lush and sweeping, but just when you think it’s going to be smooth sailing the whole way through, it bursts into youthful life with intertwining guitar lines, one a jagged buzz saw, the other slick and pure. “Hudson” is another that’ll keep you on your toes. It’s one of the album’s most dynamic tracks, from the excellently jaunty, spidery opening guitar riff, to the slow and dreamy middle, to the distorted, raw outro.
As big a part of this album as change is, the skeleton that has always made Moving Mountains so excellent is still intact. The unique, prog-esque time signatures that have set them apart since the days of “With One’s Heart in One’s Mouth” and “Aphelion” are still there. They’re just brought to life by acoustic guitars and pianos now, where their predecessors were heavy-handed and forceful.
Remember those bloody, visceral lyrics like “Your skin against my own, your flesh against my bones, and all I ever wanted to feel was connection” from “Light & Shapes”? The lines on Moving Mountains are direct descendants of those, like “And I found love inside of my blood, a different set of skin stretched across my bones” from “Chords”. “Hudson” boasts similarly striking lyrics, like “I feel you deeper when you’re further from my arms and it burns inside my heart”. Fittingly enough, that’s exactly where these songs will hit you. They’ll buzz in your blood, prickle your skin, and find a seat deep in your bones.
If that physical imagery is one major thematic thread that runs across Moving Mountains, then its complement is definitely the idea of movement, and I’m not just talking about the sweeping instrumentals of the songs themselves. In song after song, the idea of just getting up and going – somewhere, anywhere, so long as it’s not here – surfaces. On “Eastern Leaves”, there’s the wistful lament “I can’t drive another road that doesn’t guide me back home.” “Seasonal” takes a lighter tone, imploring hopefully, “Just put aside your grief and insecure beliefs and drive with me.”
Those two major themes aside, if there’s one line that really sums up this album, it’s “We’ll shake the ground for ourselves and no one else” from the bonus track “Stones”. You get the idea that this is an album that Moving Mountains made for themselves, without paying mind to what the public expected or wanted. They’re all the better for it, in my opinion. Gregory Dunn sounds content the entire way through, both lyrically and vocally,and the gorgeous instrumentals support that. They’re definitely shaking the ground, and they’re doing it on their terms. If this is the new path Moving Mountains has taken for the future, it’s hard to imagine a better change.
It’s an age-old adage: Change is good, change is necessary, change is inevitable. You can’t go anywhere new if you don’t change. It’s impossible to get better when you’re stuck in neutral. With that mantra in mind, then, it’s hard to label Moving Mountains as anything but a triumphant, rousing success. If you’re looking for something in the same vein as their earlier styles, this album might be a disappointment. But if you’re open to change, then Moving Mountains is an absolute beauty. The new album might have shifted into a lower gear from that of Waves or Pneuma, but Moving Mountains’ new pace is undoubtedly smoother, lusher, and arguably more mature.