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Ava Luna has always been a conversation between its members—sometimes inward-facing, but always uniquely worth eavesdropping on. Soul and funk, krautrock, post-punk, R&B, gospel and even reggae influences all bounce off each other in sync with each participant’s idiosyncratic background and interests. With Moon 2, that specificity has only tightened but, as in any relationship that has existed for the better part of a decade, the conversation has evolved.
Since releasing Infinite House in 2015, the members of Ava Luna have ventured out in different directions: Felicia Douglass and Becca Kauffman took the lead in their own projects with Gemma and Jennifer Vanilla, respectively—Douglass working with Erik Gundel and Ethan Bassford on a lush space that foregrounds her magnetic vocals; and Kauffman taking her unhinged performance practice to its logical extreme. Julian Fader released an album with new project Coffee and toured with Katie Von Schleicher; he and Carlos Hernandez released an LP with new project Nadine (Father/Daughter), while also lending production and arrangements to Frankie Cosmos, Mr Twin Sister, Speedy Ortiz, Palehound, and more. And this year, Douglass is hitting the road as a touring member of Dirty Projectors.
Moon 2 came together in Wilmington, Vermont, and Hull, Massachusetts in the fall and winter of 2017—two off-season vacation destinations perfect for carving out new sonic territory. Kauffman came to Vermont with a crate of “women’s tapes”: recordings of neo-pagan goddess chants from 90’s women’s lib groups, which she picked up at a yard sale. Kauffman’s fascination with the tapes spread through the band and, having spent their career writing through-composed songs so averse to repetition it became one of their many inside jokes, Ava Luna found themselves writing much of Moon 2 around chants and refrains as well. As a result, phrases such as “All the things he read / nothing in his head” or “If I go for a deli run will you roll with me” become points of unity. “[When you sing together] you create something that’s teachable, learnable, that everyone can do together,” says Kauffman. “It’s a relationship you’re sparking. It creates this harmony/integration that’s critical for human survival.”
In Hull, as a blizzard whited out the ocean outside the window, the band set up a recording studio in the basement, often sneaking down alone or in small groups to work on the album. “[Ethan, Felicia and I] play forever, then leave to go eat breakfast, Carlos goes downstairs and edits it because he heard something he liked, then Felicia goes down and puts a melody on it…It’s like making it through the internet but in the same house,” says Julian Fader.
After being the de facto band leader for so long, Hernandez decided to step back, leaving space for the rest of the band to step up and step into roles they hadn’t occupied on previous albums. Douglass worked with percussion and sampler, Fader experimented with synths, nearly every band member ran the computer during recording sessions, and Kauffman composed her first song for the group: “On Its Side the Fallen Fire,” which began as a chant that beset a live-composed all-in recording session and coalesced into a deeply layered orchestral piece of Kate Bush grandeur meets Julia Holter reverie.
Certainly, some fans will find the album more subdued than its predecessors. Moon 2 has less sharp turns into dissonance, less celebratory guitar parts, none of Hernandez’s signature screams—a turn that can be chalked up to both the remix of roles, as well as the band getting older and locating joy in exploration and production. Nevertheless, the infectious buoyancy of a weekend recap on “Deli Run” and intricate triptych of “Walking With an Enemy,” a song about traumatic enlightenment which Douglass assembled from a discarded batch of recordings and reanimated, are warm and bright, and songs like “Centerline” and “Phoebe (Set it Off)” venture confidently into pop territory. The title track, painting the elation and tumult of a crush on a nightmare person set, is set against a swaggering reggae bassline and warbling Kraftwerk synths. “It’s like, every sci-fi movie has a nightclub,” says Kauffman. “These are the songs in that nightclub.”
Holed up in an isolated dream space of their own creation and listening to pagan goddess chants, sci-fi utopias weighed heavily upon the making of the album. “We know what this world looks like, we know what this moon looks like, we know all the fucked up things that exist in our day to day life. But let’s imagine a second. Let’s imagine another. This album was made under the second moon,” says Hernandez, of the album’s title. And yet, the album ends on a song simply called “Moon.” “[Utopias] were never meant to be permanent, they were never meant to sustain society, it’s all supposed to be a beautiful experiment,” Hernandez acknowledges. “Obviously there’s no second moon. But isn’t it great to dream of it?”
Within the understanding and trust inherent in Moon 2 there is the echo of a temporary utopia: a creative relationship that endures; a conversation in which the participants close enough that they can finish each other’s sentences, but aware enough to occasionally hold back and let each finish their own.