Moonshine Freeze is the fifth release from British-raised, Paris-based This Is the Kit, a.k.a. Katie Stables, who over the past decade has earned noteworthy fans such as Guy Garvey, Sharon van Etten, and the National’s Aaron Dessner (who appears on six of the album’s 11 tracks).
In terms of vocal stylings and arrangement, Stables’ previous work has echoed that of artists such as Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and Fionn Regan — atmospheric, steady, and slow-moving with something of an accompanying coolness — and Moonshine Freeze proves to be no different. Here is an album for walking home on a chilly autumnal night (possibly through a woodland area, if you have the opportunity).
Musically, the songs ebb and flow with a steady pace (“Hotter Colder” is a particular standout), culminating in a gorgeously shaky crescendo in album closer “Solid Grease”. Gradually they reveal themselves to be visually and thematically complex yet sweetly confined within the limited extent of the accompanying instrumentation. Apparently written directly after returning from touring the album’s predecessor, Bashed Out, each instrument seems to be doing exactly what it’s supposed to, so much so the drum machine at the start of “Two Pence Piece” appears as something of a shock to the system when one has become so acclimatized to the acoustic soundscape. Though many in Stables’ accompanying band are indeed multi-instrumentalists, the songs rarely sound bloated, and a lack of unnecessary overdubbing and studio tinkering makes the whole album sound richly organic. It’s like a musical jigsaw in which each instrument is a piece that plays an equal part.
Lyrically, things get a little more sticky, as Stables plucks her words from a plethora of influences ranging from African folklore (“By My Demon Eye”) to her own motherhood (the album’s title track stems from a game Stables played with her daughter). Though vivid in their imagery and intricacy, the underlying song meanings suggest that Stables is encouraging the listener to do some digging for them to be fully comprehended, and a lot are so veiled they wouldn’t look out of place on an alt-J record.
Though these lyrics can prove a touch innocuous, it is Stables’ voice that makes Moonshine Freeze so enjoyable, with a unique tone that is soothing in its rich timbre, much like another collaborator of Dessner’s, Lisa Hannigan. It is sweet, steady, and stirring, and many of the album’s best moments feature just Stables and her banjo (“Easy on the Thieves” is a real highlight).
Though it lacks some of the more memorable hooks that have appeared throughout Stables’ previous work, each song here has its own particular heartbeat, thus painting a portrait of an artist at her most reflective, if not always her most accessible. It’s good to know that along with the aforementioned Hannigan and Regan, Stables is fighting her corner in the world of atmospheric folk music with a voice that continues to chill to the bone.