Midnight Moodswings are a band that released with ‘The Surrogate Piano’ a collection of cinematic songs where the minimalism of Philip Glass blends with the soundtracks of Angelo Badalamenti, the cozy atmosphere of dream pop/shoegazing bands like Low, and the trip-hop of Massive Attack. This is very soothing music where darkness and light walk hand in hand.
With The Elated, the album starts off with superimposed cascading and echoing piano layers. The ambient mood continues with aerial and scintillating guitar, along with various percussions. Throbbing and low male and female vocals join, and the piano/guitar interplay gives a japanese feel to the whole. Tuned down slow-paced drums at the end add to the “shoegazing” side of the music.
Sleep, Tired presents with sad rhodes coming in contrast with enchanting glockenspiel. A mellotron adds an orchestral edge to the music, while a slow accordion in the background maintains the sadness.
In Only You Can Hurt, the sad rhodes is here again. Retiring and laidback drumming sets the pace and adds to the overall sadness, while fuzzed guitar picks cheer up the background (reminding Popol Vuh’s melodic guitar work on Morgengrüss, a track featured on the OST to Werner Herzog’s ‘Aguirre, The Wrath Of God’). Rhodes’ notes then cascade and bump delicately into one another before piano notes fall like rain drops.
Indecent Mathematics features a sad piano and a shoegazing atmosphere with low-tone male-female vocal duet, repetitive slow guitar picks and drum beats programmed in a trip-hop way, with a percussive effect at times reminding the echoing beats of Tangerine Dream’s Tangram Set 1.
Interlude- Hell’s Teeth features once again the male-female vocal duet, but this time female vocals sound distant, as if responding to her partner from a confined space. Vocals are backed by sad aquatic rhodes and an eerie distorted cello.
The eerie factor remains in The Revolting Abstract with aquatic rhodes and hesitating programmed beats, before a japanese theme on guitar cheers the atmosphere up. Keyboards blowing like a breeze ensure the transition to some strange musical territories with guitar losing its bearings, alarming keyboards and sounds like pieces of broken window falling on the floor.
Trapped In Recurrence features some “erratic” programmed rhythms, incantatory and throbbing male-female vocals, along with hypnotic guitar soundscapes.
An eerie and repetitive piano opens My Friend, The Surrogate, as if we were navigating on troubled waters. This effect is enhanced by some ghost-like keyboard sounds and bubbling keyboard spots like bubbles forming at the surface of hot waters or forming because of an amphibian breathing down in water. The piano is then tuned down and some sequenced keyboards and David Torn-like guitar soundscapes take over. The overall atmosphere reminds of the ambient works of Harold Budd.
Echoing guitar with hesitating piano open My Infernal Monologues, a song that soon turns to a Western affair with mouth-organ, and percussions galloping like a horse in a western movie. The song closes with troubled piano and sustained mouth-organ, as if leaving a question unanswered. One could think of Ennio Morricone for the western movie side, but the eeriness makes it closer to the likes of Angelo Badalamenti (‘Twin Peaks’, ‘Lost Highway’).
A Clockwork Must Tire is in a typical trip-hop vibe with monotonous programmed beats, repetitive distant piano and sad incantatory male-female vocals. The dark atmosphere is broken by various elements: a celesta, a saxophone, a vibraphone, buzzing keyboards and bouncing piano touches, as well as more prominent and cheerful beats.
Interlude- The Patters In Sleep features repetitive keyboards and distant percussive bells played in a japanese way. The japanese vibe is soon followed by echoing piano soundscapes, as if escaped from Vangelis’s fingers.
In Stay Awake, a sad piano accompanies keyboard-generated choir and repetitive pizzicato theme (like fingers plucking strings on violin). A melancholic Far East theme then follows (Japan again), backed by some hypnotic guitar picks and meditative keyboards. The pizzicato theme closes the track, but this time as if played on harp.
Only You Can Heal opens with acoustic guitar. It is soon followed by piano drops and a distant choir. A melancholic rhodes then joins, and the guitar becomes repetitive and mesmerizing. Echoing piano spots then cheer the mood up and the guitar becomes more expressive. Piano drops conclude the track with the distant choir.
Everything Worth Waiting For features throbbing guitar with delicate reflective rhodes and slow and repetitive piano. Various percussions, as well as a sceptical accordion, add some cheerfulness to the whole. Rhodes become menacing and mark the transition to a pastoral mood when mandolin and joyful piano join. Mouth-organ and percussions end the track in a somewhat ethnic vibe.
The closing track, Nocturnesque, features echoing piano backed by growing orchestral keyboards. This overture is followed by hasty and repetitive piano, backed by monotonous mouth-organ, here again providing a Far East flavour to the whole. A classical guitar joins, then enchanting piano drops intersperse the repetitive theme. The song ends with hypnotic guitar and discreet programmed beat.
Overall, ‘The Surrogate Piano’ is a very lush and diverse body of work. The many influences presented above are a proof of open-mindedness of the protagonists, and making those influences work together was not an easy task. Midnight Moodswings managed to bring together their influences without making them sound opposing, and to make darkness and light coexist in harmony. We can salute the musicians for their successful management of this risky endeavour, and we hope for more great music to come.