Moon Diagrams' debut merges an intriguing, genre-hopping beginning and end with a lackluster middle section of extended ambient dance tracks.
Lifetime of Love, the first album from Moon Diagrams, encompasses a gamut of different genres. But the record is dominated by its middle section, a quartet of ambient dance tracks that range in length from a reasonable 5:30 to a numbing 14:06. That’s a shame because the songs at the beginning and end of the album are highly listenable, or at the very least sonically interesting.
Moon Diagrams is the alias of Deerhunter drummer Moses John Archuleta. This is an album he’s worked on in fits and starts over ten years, and the press materials for the record helpfully break down which tracks were recorded when. It’s no surprise that three of the long tracks all came from the same period because they have similar feels. “Nightmoves” and “Magic Killer” bookend this section of the record with contrasting grooves. “Nightmoves” has a relatively basic beat. It’s a steady kick drum, a simple syncopated high hat, and a two-note bass figure. There’s a bit that slightly changes up the bassline for contrast, but even that is a subtle contrast. This goes on for nearly seven minutes with no changes. There’s essentially no melody in the song, either, just quiet synth accents here and a distant guitar sample there. It’s not a bad groove, but the lack of variety makes the seven minutes feel like 15.
“Magic Killer”, on the other hand, begins with a dark, driving beat, before abruptly switching into something much lighter, with airy synths dominating the sound. Eventually, Archuleta works some of the earlier grooves back into the track while also adding a pair of simple guitar riffs that flit in and out. There’s enough here to keep the song lively, and it doesn’t wear out its welcome in its five and a half minutes.
“Blue Ring” and “The Ghost and the Host” are the album’s epic centerpieces. Neither track is as monochrome as “Nightmoves”, but they come pretty close. These are ambient dance tracks that take their time getting anywhere, gradually adding in and removing sounds as the minutes tick by. There is enough going on in each song that they aren’t outright bores, but they both become background music almost immediately. Nothing in either song caused me to want to turn them off because they are both blandly inoffensive in their ambience. Of the two, “The Ghost and the Host” is more memorable because of its title and because it has some darker ideas that could almost line up with the “ghost” part of that title. But it’s also the one that drones on for 14 minutes when clearly seven would’ve sufficed.
In contrast, Lifetime of Love begins with “Playground”, a beat-free track that opens with quiet washes of synth ambience before being overtaken by wordless chorale voices. This fades away into the languid, low-key “Moon Diagrams”, which drifts nicely along with motionless synth atmosphere and a simple beat and bassline. Archuleta sings quietly in a baritone voice, but his lyrics aren’t particularly meaningful, seemingly there mostly for texture and a simple melody.
At the back end of the album, penultimate song “Bodymaker” features wordless female singing on top of a hazy, late night synth bed. In the second half of the song, a male voice faintly sings “You’ll never be alone,” before the track slowly fades away. “Bodymaker” is full of atmosphere and not much else, but at less than four minutes long, it’s very effective. And that fades into “End of Heartache”, which closes the album on a dance-pop note. Archuleta sings full out, doing his best Ian Curtis impression over disco-style rhythm guitar and a driving dance beat. This is not a great pop song, but it’s a good one, and after the rest of the album it feels like a breath of fresh air.
“End of Heartache” intentionally ends Lifetime of Love on a cathartic note, as the album is ostensibly a journey through all of the phases of a relationship. But the middle section of the album, with its long form tracks, just doesn’t hold the listener’s attention. Ambient and dance music fans may find this album more engaging than I did, but Moon Diagrams’ scattershot approach could also be off-putting to that same audience.