Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Music Review: The Mantis and the Moon

About six months ago, I received a copy of an EP called The Mantis and the Moon in my mailbox.

In my relatively short life, I've heard a number of indie artists. Some friends, some friends of friends. Some completely unknown to me. (Full disclosure: I've met Chris Slaten, the man behind Son of Laughter, because we've known his wife since our early concert-going days.) But I've never listened to a batch of songs that so completely and pleasantly surprised me as this one.

From the Simonesque opening to the final lovely fade, I was completely captivated by both the music and the images his words evoke. As his opening stanza of "Cricket in a Jar" so poignantly expresses:

Catch the moment. The moment has passed!
This is a law of loveliness: we love what never lasts.
Try and hold it; it slips right through.
Before you know the garden's grown. There's nothing left to do. 

I am unable to recreate the euphoria of the first time I heard those words sung. Sheer joy. Parenthood is the intended target, but anything ethereal is covered here.

Bolstered by Ben Shive's excellent production, the music is made all the richer by the added instrumentation. The subtle percussion and catchy hooks help congeal Slaten's songs into your brain long after you stop listening.

The EP ended up in my car CD player and it hasn't left. It's still the first thing I turn to when I tire of NPR. Or the Classical Conversations Cycle 2 songs. (Which is often.) An added bonus: my kids love it.

Slaten is above all a talented wordsmith, and the lyrics only get richer with repeated listens. His mad-scientist combinations of allusions and metaphors floored me.

Drawing inspiration from (among other sources) an African folktale, a nature documentary, and the Grimm's version of Cinderella, these songs are all deeply rooted in Story. The Story. Whether he is waxing poetic about a musician in the middle of rush hour or the mating habits of a feathered friend, these small details turn into ardent Truths.

These songs struck me hard, and I still haven't recovered from the shock. "What trophies, degrees, or hyperboles do you line upon your shelf?" It took me this many months to write this simple review because I was afraid I wouldn't do it justice. Well, I still haven't, but here you are.

If there is any drawback, it may be the placement of the final song, which after the more upbeat offerings early on the EP left me wanting more, and it took me weeks to finally listen to all of "Partington Cove" without wanting to skip back to the beginning to hear "Grace is Gold" again. Still, once I let the lyrics sink in, I was rewarded with a beautiful rendering that perfectly captured that time when Gaines and I were only just beginning to date, often roadtripping to concerts:

Sitting side by side
on the long car rides,
we opened our souls by the seams
and married our dreams.

Now, I do know a little of the Slatens' history and how it mirrors our own, but knowing these things only made the songs more glorious. A mild-mannered English teacher by day, Chris' superpower with words is revealed and made evident in his music.

Catch him (without a cape) at a concert near you -- he'll be touring over the next few months and especially into the summer. We were blessed to be able to hear him live as part of Hutchmoot 2013, and I can say his music translates equally well through an acoustic solo act on stage. Blown away, I was!

I am grateful to have gotten a copy for review, and I request you purchase one (or twenty-three) wherever hidden gems like this are sold. Try The Rabbit Room store first, if you please. And enjoy!

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