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Dylan Moon
Option Explore Zara Hedderman , July 7th, 2022 08:01

Dylan Moon's second album makes for a dense, if uneven listen, but gve it time and you'll find plenty to love, finds Zara Hedderman

Musicians and producers adopt all sorts of philosophies in the hope of encouraging creativity during the songwriting process. For Option Explore, Dylan Moon’s methods are in the title. The LA-based artist adopted the “explore / exploit trade-off” concept, typically associated with computational neuroscience and psychiatry, which is founded on a practice of exploiting familiar options to attain a known reward and exploring unfamiliar options for an unknown reward. Sometimes risks pay off (see: Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden), and sometimes they produce questionable results (Lou Reed and Metallica’s Lulu, anyone?). On Moon’s second LP, there are moments where his unwavering enthusiasm for the unexpected rouses the ear, while some of his steps are narrowly misdirected, leading the listener back to his more cohesive and developed debut.

His 2019 colourful introduction with Only the Blues, described as “a snowglobe of sparkling psychedelic pop” in an interview with Moon, combined Chris Cohen’s laidback Californian cadence with the wonderfully woozy instrumentation and mood in Connan Mockasin’s musicality. Its sweet, slacker sensibility and twinkling electronic ambiance made for an immediately engaging and endearing listening experience. Option Explore, on the other hand, requires more time to settle into but once you acclimatise to this very different sound from Moon there are plenty of components that transcend the points that let it down. Predominantly underpinned by a hypnagogic pop style, Moon experiments with new age textures, synthesised panpipes, sleepy synth-pop, and a riff reminiscent of Shanice’s 1991 hit single, ‘I Love Your Smile’ for good measure on the vibrant ‘Fortuna’. And while there are instances where Moon attempts to bring the party with the buoyant drum and bass centrepiece to ‘Deep Time’, Option Explore exists as a more low-energy entity.

Moon studied sound design and electronic production in college and his formal education is put to work across these concise compositions, the majority of which come in at under the three-minute mark. In the short space of time in each song, Moon packs a lot in. The saturation in the arrangements isn’t chaotic, however. There’s space and breathing room. Some tracks have the adrenaline of video game-like music (‘Hmm’, ‘Spandex Simple’) and the calming lo-fi sensibilities of Alex G (a prominent reference point, throughout) on ‘Creaking’, ‘I-80’ and ‘Again’, which provide stand-out moments in the tracklist. Where he leans into unfamiliar sonic terrain, however, he feels lost and clings to melodic patterns we’ve heard before with other artists, notably mid-era MGMT, alongside the aforementioned Alex G influence.

Moon conveys confidence in his arrangements more so towards the latter half of the record. Starting with the pretty outro, comprised of a softly strummed open tuned acoustic guitar ascending from ‘Understand’s’ blocky melody. Elsewhere, the nostalgia drenched ‘Dröm’ recalls some of Only the Blues tonality, as does ‘Look’. ‘Hello Mirage’ also takes hold of the listeners attention with a Bacharach-ish flair to the arrangement and some mild tropicalia tones.

Option Explore is a pleasant second offering from Dylan Moon. Had he been more daring with the direction he took to bring his psych-pop sensibilities into the future, this record would have ultimately made a greater impression.