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400 Lonely Things - Mother Moon

400 Lonely Things - Mother Moon coverMother Moon is as much about a mansion and as it is a painting that hung on one of its walls. That mansion was the Banning Mill, a former textile mill situated in the rural backwoods of Georgia. During the 1970 -1990s it was a psychedelic artists colony and later home to post-grad psychology students. Under the caretakership of Mike a reclusive eccentric and an openly gay man in the bigoted deep south it became a secret haven for artists, drag queens, misfits, intellectuals and professors who attended the parties he threw amidst the musty and tattered furniture and his curious curated collection of artefacts and kitschy and disturbing paintings and photographs which adorned the walls of the dilapidated rooms and hallways. The mill provided an alternate-universe acting as a threshold where the past seeped into the present, where ghosts lurked ready to appear at any point. It's hardly surprising it was whispered about in legendary terms by the local outsiders and misfits.

It wasn't until its later days Craig Varian of 400 Lonely Things visited. It left an indelible mark on his psyche and imagination laying the foundations for what would become 400 Lonely Things, a long running project began by Varian and his late musical partner Jonathan McCall, who died in 2020.

Mother Moon is the music that was heard in this place and that was seen in the painting. Varian named the painting Mother Moon, following his initial encounter with the image on his first visit to the mill - years later Varian would subsequently purchase the piece which appears on the cover. This artwork was part of a series called La Minotaura or alternately The Minotauress created by the artist Richard Scott Hill, whose art and photographic centred around masks.

Opening to a quiet ambient hush, tolling bells and treated bird song 'Good Morning' creates an ominous setting drfting into slight airy synths surrounded by distorted steps leading from the backwoods to the wooded mansion. We enter the mansion with 'You Must Sail to the Haunted Stars' where a weathered drone leads into the looped sound of what sounds like a stuck old record, its disembodied piano notes providing the score to a spoken male voice repeating the title in echoing and reverberating tones. As it unwinds layers of shifting drones slip into atmospheric ambience filled with out of focus ghostly sound elements. Deeply evocative and hypnotic, it quietly lulls you into its dreamy, captivating realms. A camera shutter end cleverly points to Richard Hill's striking photographs which hung around the building of people and animals wearing a mask based on Rembrandt's self-portrait. Ghostly piano chime plays wistfully throughout 'Parlor Tricks', its looped melody punctuated by bleets and electronic shivers. A disturbing low end ambience lurks below from which voices of the past arise distorted and distended creating a sense of unsettling queasy ambience. It captures a haunting element which runs throughout Mother Moon but nothing is ever made obvious, everything is implied and directed by the sound comprised of samples from media sources. It is a wondrous exercise in evoking memories of the building, art and people that once inhabited the building.

Airy spectral harmonies swirl around the slight drone distortions of 'Many Moons'. It almost feels like a portal into the mansion allowing us to travel through its hallways and rooms until midway we reach the painting that birthed the album:

"Around that corner, this nude and forgotten cow-faced earth-mother goddess bafflingly seated in a 1960's suburban easy chair. Above her, the haunting photographic portrait of a woman whose dark eyes are alive looks out and sees this and sees you, too."

This encounter with The Minotauress opens a vortex into another world, as if we are listening to the chatter of conversations she heard, and the echo of footsteps pounding the wooden floorboards and the chirping birds outside in the woods.

Unfurling in queasy looped piano notes and snatches of processed harmonic voices 'In Darkness' sounds like a hymn to The Minotauress, who would become a guiding force to Varian. Underneath it quakes and rumbles to low end shuddering and above digital answerphone chimes perhaps signalling communication with the dead. It segues into 'Oh My Soul' where a slight melodic motif recurs amidst the hazy gauze of a textured ambience filled with voices and ghostly calls.

The experimental electronics of 'Banning Mill' act as a meditation on the now abandoned structure drifting through a hazy melodic ambience its solemnity forged with a gritty textured presence beckoning footsteps from the past. While the footfall of its former inhabitants appear on this one, it is on 'Cast Us Deep in Mountain Sleep' where their voices surface. 'Cast Us Deep in Mountain Sleep' is almost sacred and séance based with its whispered voices. It moves into nebulous realms with fragmented waves of ripping sounds resembling the textile machinery which was once worked in the building from the 19th century onwards.

The final piece, 'I Live in the Green Blooded Forest', dedicated to the memory of Rosaleen Norton, the Australian occult artist known as The Witch Of Kings Cross has a ghostly voice repeating a line taken from her Dance of Life, wafts through tolling bells, rattling textures and floating synths. It is as much about the Pan worshipping free spirited visionary artist who explored her subconscious as it is about the mansion situated in the green woodlands.

William Basinski was on production duties for this and while that may account for the undercurrent of deterioration and disintegration, the music at times recalls Human Greed, The Caretaker and English Heretic. The accompanying booklet available with the download has been put together with such care and detail it sits nicely with the publishing work of the aforementioned English Heretic. Mother Moon featured on many best of the year lists, and it's no wonder. It rivals the best work of Ghost Box whilst avoiding the obvious tropes now associated with hauntology and the label. But make no mistake this music for the mill keeps alive the imagination, mystery and weirdness which permeated the hallways and rooms of a building which housed a secret history. Mother Moon is so haunting, captivating and original I can't recommend it enough. Mother Moon is available on CD from Cold Spring and digitally with accompanying booklet from 400 Lonely Things bandcamp