Moon Safari – Himlabacken, vol. 2 (2023)
This is another one of those. An album that has made a deep impression on many at the end of 2023 and is mentioned in many annual lists and does not do much for me. I read all kinds of superlatives and the sky-high cheering reviews pile up, even resulting in maximum scores. All my previous attempts to appreciate the music of Moon Safari have unfortunately been unsuccessful, but I started listening to the new album with an open mind. And yes, I think it's better than the previous albums, but it doesn't blow me away.
Is there something wrong with me? (Well, according to some.......)
Of course I also hear the masterful harmony vocals, the nice solos on keys and guitar, unfortunately sometimes also on the saxophone, and the beautiful melodies here and there. The production is also very well taken care of and the album also sounds great.
What's the problem? It's all too smooth, too sweet for me and it simply doesn't touch me. I also think the shorter songs are quite different from the rest. I hear a lot of Styx and Kansas, but not on that level. And where I normally warm up to long tracks with a lot of variety, these can't really keep me interested. A lot of choirs and a high musical content, not really my thing. Don't get me wrong, that's really just me, because in addition to excellent singing, the men around the Akesson brothers can also play very well and master their instrument completely. Every now and then it rocks nicely and that makes it all a bit more exciting. Between the Devil and Me is the best song for me and contains a lot of elements that make me happy as a progger, including a lovely, cheering guitar solo at the end. If the level of this song would fill the entire album then it would be a great album but as already made clear that is not the case. Opener 198X (Heaven Hill), Emma, Come On and Blood Moon are short songs where we hear real pop rock or classic rock of a decent level but just not as good as for example Styx or other 70/80's greats.
With its more than 21 minutes, Teen Angel meets the Apocalypse is a real epic that shows everything these Swedes can do and that's really a lot. Vocally this is certainly one of the best bands in the genre and the already mentioned harmony vocals are very good but get on my nerves a bit in the long run. I also have that with Starcastle or Yes, for example, because I also hear influences from these bands.
The short Beyond the Blue shows that polyphonic vocals again against a background of orchestral keys. Nice in itself.
A Lifetime to learn how to love and Forever, for You are both fairly long songs and contain beautiful parts but are very sweet and ultimately exhausting. Despite the sincerity of the intention, this is just too smooth, too smoothed out. I am also regularly reminded of the Alan Parsons Project and hear passages that could have come straight from I Robot or The Turn Of A Friendly Card. The album was mixed and mastered by the well-known American producer Rich Mouser, known from his work with Spock's Beard and Transatlantic, among others, and that explains the overall sound of the album. Expert, certainly, but also rather over the top American.
So all in all it's a very long album and for me some parts could have been left out, so that the balance would have tipped more to the prog side and less to the heavily American sounding classic rock side. But a lot of people don't think that and that's nice because these people have a great album and can enjoy Himlabacken vol. 2. Moon Safari is the next victim of my abnormality, I just can't seem to appreciate Scandinavian prog while there are so many fellow proggers who absolutely love it. I want to like it, but I can't get any further than Introitus as a somewhat favourite band from far north.
Usually I conclude with a judgement on the artwork and especially the cover. I can be brief about that, I really don't like that. A nostalgic, neat word for old, photo of a child looking at a sailboat might fit the lyrics and the overall feel of nostalgia, but it's not my thing.