Kelly Moran : Moves in the Field

Kelly Moran Moves in the Field review

It’s strange: The piano, hovering at just about 300 years old, produces a specific sound, something austere and eternal, which feels like witnessing statues and shafts of great light and the sweep of old marble assembling into the type of monument that feels resolute and holy even in its ruin. The timing of this is curious: Other instruments, far older and more established within folk and even orchestral canon, don’t seem to produce this same affect within their timbre. It’s part of what makes solo piano pieces, be they by Liszt and Chopin or a blues player or a jazz savant or a pop player, have such gravitas almost supernaturally, the way a well-distorted guitar played roughly adds a feral human color or the breathy creaking moan of a saxophone feels at times more like a human voice than our own.

Kelly Moran is a player who has collaborated in spaces as far afield as the art rock of Toby Driver to the progressive electronic pop/rock of Oneohtrix Point Never to Voice Coils, an underrated avant-rock group featuring a young Mitski before her solo breakout. That she would eventually make a solo piano record (of sorts; more on that in a moment) of her own, Moves in the Field, feels a necessary bridge to cross for someone with her aesthetic and compositional ambitions.

It’s hard not to just say: This is beautiful. Because it is. I’ve been writing a novel for the past year, and one of the great trials is finding a way to squeeze more blood from the stone, to find some way to look down at a growing manuscript, now coming precariously close to 200,000 words, and find something to evoke the next step. I received the promo for this record very early in the month, technically making this write-up late. Sometimes, if luck and beauty are on my side, if my wits are keen, I can start drafting a review on the first listen, sharpening it with repeated passes. This time, however, I was seized by another force, one which hurled me back toward my novel. A planned break to collect myself was aborted; words flowed, and over the past month, this record has eased out of me four of the remaining 18 outlined chapters, a sizable chunk. The recurring motif has been their evocation of quietude, beauty, eternity. There are images in my head of water, feathers, moonlight, distant figures clustered on high ridges, blue beneath the evening glow, but disappearing in a dizzying mottle of shadow against forest floor as you approach.

Moves in the Field is not truly a solo record per se, instead duets or sometimes more played between Moran and herself using a Disklavier, something akin to an evolved Synclavier or player piano. This unison of voices is peaceable yet intoxicating; the braid of lines produced not just by one penning hand but in a real sense by one player dueting with herself, like the way a good poet or sharp essayist or stream-of-consciousness novelist pours themselves almost automatically out onto the page.

The quietude around this record, one which I fear but expect shall continue past its release, is another entrancing component for me. Moran’s position in contemporary classical composition is strange, at once often too pop to fit keenly into those spaces yet also clearly trained and studious there in a way which at times seems to get in the way of more direct crossover successes. But it also means the bullshit obscuring cloud of hype and anti-hype, the way we are forced by a neurotic and judgmental culture to always have a take, no, the take, rather than witnessing and experiencing, gets to blow on by and leave the record unscarred. Listening to it places me in the same mind that the mellower and softer fusion or New Age records do. There is a deliberate slowness here, one which as I age becomes more and more of keen interest to me. A desire to set my phone down, pick up a novel, for the love of god, to think, to think without feeling suffocated by anything except my own feelings, my own confusion.

Moves in the Field is a good record to get lost in, to let yourself spool out to. It’s not a surprise to me that, listening to it on repeat close to midnight, the growing shame and humiliation of the extension of my days weighing on me, I was driven to write. It also renders the record, for me at least, tremendously difficult to talk about in any kind of objective or maybe even insightful way; it is, for me, far too emotional and intuitive, slipping right past my emotional defenses with sharp chord voicings and harmonies meant to slice me open.

Label: Warp

Year: 2024

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Kelly Moran Moves in the Field review

Kelly Moran : Moves in the Field

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