Dreamlike and chilly is the world inhabited by frostlake, the mysterious songstress whose name graces the b&w album artwork of White Moon, Black Moon. The gnarled branches of its trees have long since shed their leaves; the trails and roads are blanketed with snow. The singer’s breathy vocals draw listeners into this alien land — they are a soothing invitation while at the same time calmly urging patience and caution.
Recorded in Sheffield, UK and released by Discus Music, White Moon, Black Moon represents the solo debut of multi-instrumentalist, vocalist and songwriter frostlake. Her association with the Orchestra Of The Upper Atmosphere, with whom she also performs and records, plants her firmly at the crossroads of the rustically traditional and the cosmically spiritual. Indeed, members of that space-rock collective — including husband Terry Todd on bass — make appearances throughout the album. Nevertheless, this ethereal landscape is singularly the beautiful and icy domain of the singer/songwriter.
The path into twilight flows through “Black Winter,” whose ringing, meditative guitar creates the atmosphere above which frostlake’s voice floats like a layer of clouds. Her vocals seem to percolate and weave through the arpeggiated chords, strings, and electronic augmentation. The darkly beautiful ”No Looking Back” zigs a different zag: here the wispy vocals seem to encircle themselves out of contempt for the deep synthesizer. When coupled with acoustic bass and drums, it creates a cold, eerily inorganic rhythm.
Descending further into this world, an elegant if eerie calm encompasses the listener, not unlike a warm blanket under which one is aware but does not feel the chill of a lightly falling snow. “Dark Winds,” for example, seems foreshadowing and ominous, yet the singer’s vocals never seem urgent or alarmed. Rather those elements present themselves in the background, bubbling to coalesce with the soothing vocal melody: the viola, the synth, or the sparingly used E-bow.
Perhaps what makes White Moon, Black Moon one of the more unique psych-folk releases of the year — and indeed what may be the album’s biggest success — is the way in which frostlake arranges and blends a seemingly disparate array of instruments. The way in which flutes, keyboards and slide guitars blend does indeed amount to a small orchestra which, although at times subdued, helps to build those airy layers upon which the essence of these songs rest.
By the album’s closing, we’re left a sense of familiarity with this quietly strange and beautiful wilderness. It is impossible, however, to unravel its crystalline mysteries in a single listen; tracks like “Connection,” “Quiet Storm,” and the title track, unveil themselves with such subtlety that one is barely aware of any secret being revealed until the moment has passed, and the song is gone. Thus, White Moon, Black Moon is — for those inclined towards the astral and the ethereal — deserving of multiple listens in order to discern its quiet beauty.