Man… I should listen to more dungeon synth.
You’d think someone that plays as many video games as I do – many of which utilize fantasy settings and, of course, ambient music – I’d be knee-, elbow-, and neck-deep in it at all times, but it always eludes my vision. Or rather, my ears, which are the eyes of music. I love listening to this kind of stuff when I do, whether its goal is to rouse the spirit or calm it, and Saskatchewan’s Hircine makes precisely both types. Anyone can make a little song that sounds like it could be the title music for an indie RPG, but it takes someone really attuned with things to make it with feeling.
Luna & the Light came at the perfect time – it’s a wonderful complement to chilled weather, blankets and piles of autumn leaves, and the occasional dusting of snow. Hircine, and label Fiadh Productions, is keenly indebted to nature and its primal powers, and that’s something you can sense in the music itself as it evokes several sorts of arcane-feeling tones and sounds. More specifically, this album’s about a cat using themes of whimsy and curiosity, adventure, and journeying through a world filled with a wonder you can’t capture with just any music.
There’s a delicateness to Luna & the Light that’s so profound. It’s present in every note as well as the space between each note. It calls to mind the agility and gentleness of a cat, of its steps across a cobblestone path or rickety wood floor in much need of replacing. It’s undetectable to most, but upon discovery elates with its beautiful presence and grace, as if blessed to gaze upon it; a good omen if there ever was one. But there’s also tension and hints of darkness as well.
“Autumnal Overture” is a tavern song to me, something made to represent peace, calm, but just a bit of fun as well. It’s light-hearted, has a great melody, and sounds like the bustling backdrop for drinks and talk among pals before setting off on a trip the next day. Hardly ignorable music, it’s the kind that really buries itself in your head and I must’ve played it (or at least an approximation of it) back to myself in my mind dozens of times over the last couple weeks. “The Gospel of Crows” is where things just begin getting interesting and more varied – it’s a couple shades darker than our jaunty opener, horns and strings are markedly lower in the scales, and the drums call to mind some ritualistic moods that feel sacred and a touch foreboding.
“Blue Mountain Flower” sounds like a song you’d find in Chrono Trigger or maybe a 64-bit-era The Legend of Zelda game with its synthetic flute lead and harp-like strings leading the way for a calming trek through nature’s hideaways. I get ‘cave fountain filled with the clearest restorative water ever seen’ vibes from this, and I love hand drums and gentle percussion at the end. The title track is a great mid-tempo romp with some mystery to it. The main melody played by a xylophone-like instrument is familiar to me which lends even further mystery to the track because I can’t quite place what it reminds me of.
“The Scent of Lavender” is a special track because not only does it close out the album (at least on Bandcamp – it’s not available on streaming for reasons that’ll soon become clear), but it’s also something very familiar to me and might be to you too. The more the song churns away in the dark and builds itself up, you realize that it’s a rendition of the Lavender Town theme from Pokémon Red/Blue (Green in Japan), a song with some grisly urban legends attached to it. It’s a pretty heavy piece to end on, resembling something of a doomed feeling for Luna & the Light, but the slow pace and forlorn attitude still fit with the overall spirit after stripping the dissonant elements of the original song to fit this more ambient style. Looked at from a meta angle, I can’t think of many better games that embodied that innocent whimsy as a kid than Pokémon with its desire to explore, learn, and befriend (enslave?) an army of Pokémon.
At the end of it all – eight tracks, around 34 minutes – Luna & the Light feels lowkey rapturous. It’s an album built on understatement and innuendo (perhaps a bit of Nintendo as well), but plays to that modality so well that you can’t help but lose yourself in the music. It’s charming, and I mean that in the most magically literal way possible as if bound to you by spell after listening to it. It’s packed with nuance and detail, riding lines between dungeon synth, medieval, and ambient so well. It makes me excited to delve into more of this sound, this time on purpose rather than by chance as was the case with Hircine.
I love this album. Hircine really put in some work to make Luna & the Light a lasting affair, one that feels right at home with the natural world, but also layered in fantasy to give it an extraordinary quality. It’s like walking through a portal to find yourself in a world fill with talking animals and beasts, where magic is as real as science, and there’s a whole land to be explored at your own peril pock-marked with towns and cities where people of all sorts live and tend to each other just as they do the earth. It’s sonic altruism, one greatly informed by both who we should strive to be as protectors and channelers of nature and humanity alike, and what is beyond possible on our own plane of existence.