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Album Review: Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds - Who Built the Moon?


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In a recent interview with FACTmagazine, Noel Gallagher recalled a conversation between him and his wife after a recording session. She asked what he’d done in the studio that day, to which he replied, "I’ve been playing the synthesizer for seven hours."

She didn’t know he could play the synthesizer, and neither did Noel; "It’s one of those albums."

It certainly is. 

Noel Gallagher and The High Flying Birds' third studio album Who Built the Moon? opens with the enchantingly atmospheric 'Fort Knox', exploring a surreal, flanger-induced plane engine flying overhead, signifying the psychadelicly broad journey that Gallagher has created to appease a much-needed evolution in his sound. 

The first two records from Gallagher's solo efforts - the self-titled debut in 2011, and Chasing Yesterday in 2015 - didn't lack substance, yet they both strayed a little too close to the songwriting and overall vibe of Oasis. Gallagher ventured into the solo realm frequently during his time with Oasis, making a name for himself as an individual musician rather than frontmen to one of Britain's most-known rock and roll bands. 

Collaborating with the likes of The Chemical Brothers ('Setting Sun', 'Let Forever Be') and creating his own ambient soundscape with 'Teotihuacan' in the 1990s, created a strong foundation to produce Who Built the Moon? with legendary electronic producer and DJ David Holmes. 

The three tasters of the record - 'Fort Knox', 'Holy Mountain' and 'It's a Beautiful World' - all encompass Gallagher's newly constructed audiosphere, jumping from full-out psychedelia, upbeat dancehall to a cosmic belter. From the three singles alone, Gallagher manages to split his fanbase apart by broadening his scope and pushing his fans boundaries. 

Those - myself included - that were enthralled with the prospect of this new direction were in for an adventurous, unexpected plethora of hazy compositions that immediately sink the listener under Gallagher's undeniable charm. 

This charm electrifies the entire record, allowing Gallagher to expand his capabilities than he ever has before; notably traversing a multitude of genres over eleven tracks whilst retaining his undeniable aura. The funk and jazz of 'Keep on Reaching' juxtapose the melancholic, Bond-esce semblance of 'The Man Who Built the Moon', whilst covering the spectrum of love and heartbreak in the upbeat ballads 'She Taught Me How to Fly' and 'If Love is Law'. 

Gallagher never shies away from the odd Beatles influence either, which is strewn throughout this record. Subtelty is Gallagher's main asset, utilizing familiarity rather than blatancy he uses a 'Come Together'-esce bassline on 'Be Careful What You Wish For' is hard to miss, but Gallagher plays around with expectation to formulate one of his trippiest yet most heartfelt songs. 

Before the first 'Interlude', Gallagher features two of his most optimistic, summer-fuelled tracks in 'Black & White Sunshine' and 'She Taught Me How to Fly' by channeling his inner New Order and 90s shoegaze influences. They both act as perfect closers for the first 'half' of Who Built the Moon?, which is bookended by 'Interlude (Parts 1 & 2)'. 

Both parts inhabit a strange placement, but work beautifully. Gallagher situates two songs between the parts - 'If Love is Law' and 'The Man Who Built the Moon' - to bride two aspects of his songwriting; love and melancholy. They harken back - lyrically and tonally - to the material of the Flying Birds' first two records, whilst retaining the experimental touch that Holmes has brought out in Gallagher. 

It's not that Chasing Yesterday and the self-titled debut were depressing or lacking in complexity, moreso that Gallagher was still connected to his Oasis roots. Who Built the Moon? enables Gallagher to cut these roots and to reveal a completely new side of himself. 

Gallagher has finally distanced himself from Oasis, and he's happy about it. 

Who Built the Moon? is out now via Soul Mash Records. 

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