The Mystery of Mr. Moon

Due presumably to some chemical imbalance or deep-seeded psychosomatic flaw, I have been known to occasionally become obsessed with individual songs. For reasons that are not immediately apparent, I will feel a strange compulsion to listen to the same track over and over and over again. This obsession inevitably burns itself out, but I’m always curious to explore what it is about a song that so enraptures me. So, when Eisley released 2011’s The Valley and I began slavishly listening to ‘Mr. Moon‘ on repeat, you can imagine that I did some digging to find the root of this fixation. At the heart of it, I think it comes to this: ‘Mr. Moon’ is cleverly arranged so that its climax (a modified refrain of the chorus) is delivered with maximum impact. Let me explain.

The organizational structure of ‘Mr. Moon’ is fairly simple: an intro and an outro bracket alternating verses and choruses with a bridge thrown in for good measure. The minor-centric melody is strong and it’s the focal point of the recording, but what really makes the song work is its unique arrangement and the layering of each of its parts.

Ultimately, no one part is particularly complex. ‘Mr. Moon’ is structured like many pop songs, using a variation of the intro-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus model that serves as the backbone of most modern song constructions. Unlike many pop songs, however, when the sections of ‘Mr. Moon’ make return appearances, they arrive in modified form. There’s no simple copy and paste work being done here. Throughout the song we’re presented with three basic arrangements: stripped down, full-bodied, and a muted full arrangement. These three arrangements come and go throughout the song in various forms and it is ultimately a combination of the familiarity that comes from their repetition and the novelty that comes from their modifications that make ‘Mr. Moon’ so effective.

The song builds and develops its layers slowly. The intro (0:00-0:43) presents a bare arrangement with the vocal melody backed by a simple two-note echo, some light cymbal taps to keep time, and the brief appearance of a theremin’s whirr. The first chorus (0:43-1:12) expands that array to include a full band sound (bass, guitar, drums) with the vocal line and an energetic half-time drum beat taking center stage. At this point, we’ve still only been exposed to one vocalist – Eisley’s trademark harmonies are suspiciously absent throughout the first third of the track, which turns out to be a strategic ploy. When the first verse (1:12-1:41) arrives, it mutes the full band sound (specifically by palm-muting the guitars) and adds an accented rhythm. It also introduces light snippets of harmony before making way for the second chorus (1:41-2:10), which reveals the full-bodied instrumentation and harmonized vocals that we have come to expect from Eisley. Having been denied these harmonies for such a large part of the song, their arrival – while subtle – carries a greater impact by imparting a sense of fullness that had been previously lacking (though the song is so well arranged that you might not even have noticed, had I not pointed it out…you’re welcome).

Given the reveal of their full sound in the second chorus, it would be easy to assume that would be the climax of the song, and yet ‘Mr. Moon’ manages to deftly avoid peaking too early. A simple bridge (2:10-2:39), that falls somewhere between the verse and choruses that have preceded it, presents a primarily instrumental walk through the chord progression that drives the song. More than anything, the bridge acts as a palette cleanser, acknowledging the build-up that has come before it while preparing the listener for the climactic moments to come. A brief reiteration of the intro (2:39-2:53) with a far more passionately delivered vocal line, still featuring a stripped down two-note echo and theremin whirr, contrasts with the full bridge to create tension and act as a perfect pre-chorus. This leads us into the climax of the song: a modified version of the chorus, whose first half (2:53-3:08) mixes the strong vocal harmonies of the full chorus with the stripped down instrumentation of the intro, and whose second half (3:08-3:22) provides the satisfying completion of a full vocal and instrumental arrangement. A more raucous version of the bridge (3:22-3:55), replete with accented and stereo-panned vocal accompaniment, gracefully draws the song to a close.

It’s that final chorus that stands out as the song’s payoff. In the first half of that climactic segment, the contrast between the frantic tapping of the drums (a modified and more interesting beat from previous chorus appearances) and the slow, richly harmonized vocals create a beautifully effective sense of movement fraught with tension. Dreamy keys, somewhat reminiscent of the recently departed theremin, float by in the background before making way for the fulfilling appearance of the whole band in the second half. It’s a masterfully arranged moment that is made possible by groundwork that has been subtly laid throughout the preceding parts of the song.

‘Mr. Moon’ works because it presents a series of simple pieces in a complex variety of ways, mixing and matching voices and rhythms across the entirety of the song. This manipulation culminates in an epic climax, that in one single chorus, manages to include all of the individually great pieces of the song and combine them into an even better whole. After all the work that Eisley puts in to set it up, the final chorus of ‘Mr. Moon’ is a magnificent moment – one that you’ll want to listen to over and over again. Take it from someone who knows.

This post originally appeared at Type in Stereo.

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