Nestled in the north-east of Sweden, a few miles from the northernmost reaches of the Baltic Sea, is the town of Skellefteå. Winters there are long, daylight scant and the climate is sub-arctic. It’s Moon Safari’s home town, and might explain why on their first two albums they explored themes of summer, sun, flowers, growth and nature. On their fourth, they continue to make harmonious music that is iridescent and radiant.
You can’t blame them for choosing to make music this warm and rich and deep. Of course, a contemporary prog band isn’t a true band unless there is endless debate about their prog merits on internet forums, and Moon Safari are no exception. But really there’s no argument here. Ten years into a career that has seen them increasingly establish themselves as a singular force, the band are now steering their West Coast sound in much more exploratory directions, and as such are now crafting 21st century prog that by rights should put them up there with the greats.
Himlabacken Vol. 1 (it means ‘Heavenly Hill’) feels like a pinnacle, a creative high. The warm harmonies of two-minute joyous opener Kids are straight from the Brian Wilson songbook of symphonic sun-drenched Californian sounds designed to lift the soul. But it’s on Mega Moon that they truly evoke the spirits of prog-masters of yore – Yes, Gentle Giant and more recent acts like Jellyfish, Dream Theater and Big Big Train – as they unleash a swirling eight-minute symphony.
There’s no clunky shifting between musical suites here. Moon Safari play with a seamless sense of purpose as guitars duck and weave and synth flourishes breathe life into songs that threaten to go off in unexpected directions, and often do. They’re not entirely original. Frontmen Simon Åkesson and Petter Sandström ‘s vocals are clearly influenced by Jon Anderson, and the significance of the Beach Boys (specifically Dennis Wilson’s underrated Pacific Ocean Blue solo album) is never too far away, especially on the luscious Barfly.
My Little Man is a gentle acoustic song that recalls the understated bossa nova of Brazil, were it created by pale-faced Swedes. On Diamonds the playing is free-flowing as the six-piece deliver a song that’s epic in scope. If you’ve ever imagined what a Brian Wilson, Queen and ABBA prog collaboration might sound like (No? Really?), then Moon Safari may well be for you.
On album closer Sugar Band, where the warm harmonies are cranked up to Factor 40 level, Moon Safari evoke the strengths of all three on a nine-minute long song. It’s a fitting end to an ambitious work.