Winter Moon-Make Real, Make Believe

Winter Moon-Make Real, Make Believe (2019, Kozmik Artifactz)

The return of Swamptina, for those who missed her the first time around

A few weeks back, Bored In Pittsburgh featured the sonic sledgehammer “Who Are You” by Melbourne, Australia’s Winter Moon, and the character of Swamptina Aguilera was born. Swamptina is the pseudonym that I bestowed upon the band’s lead singer, Milly Moon, whose showstopping vocal performance recalled a spooky, witchy version of a certain mid-2000’s pop star, a figure who I imagined would live in a bog and place hexes upon the heads of those who had wronged her. Well, the good people of Winter Moon are back with their debut, Make Real, Make Believe (released in May), an album that more than lives up to the lofty bar set by the aforementioned single.

Any description of Winter Moon’s music has to start with a discussion of Milly Moon’s voice. A seemingly unstoppable force of nature, it looms over each of Make Real, Make Believe’s 11 tracks like a great, fiery cloud. Moon greets the listener by kicking their door off its hinges with album opener “Knee High,” a song that splits the difference between seductive and frighteningly intense. “Don’t want to hear you speak,” she warns a significant other overtop jagged, circular guitar stabs. I have to second Moon’s sentiment here, because once she enters the room through the remains of the door that she just battered down, I don’t really want to hear from anyone else, either. Moon commands the metaphorical stage even when she pulls back from her roaring belts to a more gentle tone; on “Take The Trip,” which sounds like a cobwebbed, haunted house take on Blowin’ Your Mind!-era Van Morrison, her voice dips and rises into eccentric lows and chilling falsettos, guiding the listener through the strange sights and sounds one might experience at this hypothetical Morrison Mansion.

Milly Moon watching over Haunted Van Morrison Mansion

While the story has got to begin with the considerable talents of Milly Moon, it definitely doesn’t end there.   

The instrumentals supporting Moon on Make Real, Make Believe are consistently exciting, matching her boundless energy roar for riff. Winter Moon draws from the deep well of good old classic rock ‘n’ roll, but manages to avoid sounding like a retread of bands past, and varies its formula widely enough from song to song to keep the album engaging throughout.

Tonile Auerfrey, the magical alter ego of guitarist Jake Winter

Jake Winter proves to be a stunningly versatile guitarist, clearly practicing some sort of sorcery that allows him to assume–and shift between—the forms of Tony Iommi, Dan Auerbach, Glenn Frey, Nile Rogers, and more. He nails the molten creep of early heavy metal on “Who Are You,” the scuzzy stomp of garage revival on “Polished Plastic,” the hair-blowing-in-a-wind-machine, lighters-in-the-sky, finger-picked balladry of 70’s rock on “Heavy Burden,” and even the trebly syncopation of disco on “Molasses” (one of the album highlights). To boot, he adds extra flavor by sprinkling the songs with bluesy solos and fills.

I’ve got to shout out the drums, of course; Lyle Jenkins holds down the rhythm section with power and with authority.  

Something else that Winter Moon does well on Make Real, Make Believe is create a palpable atmosphere, which can be described as “stoned and swampy.” Many of the album’s lyrics convey a wish to step outside the bounds of mundane human experience, be it through nature, sex, or drugs. Spooky, slightly supernatural imagery abounds. Moon ratchets up the heat and humidity not only with the extended nuclear explosion that is her voice, but also with her sultry turns on several slow jams that are scattered between the more rocking numbers.

The majestic Hammond organ, conjurer of all things swampy

The secret weapon that Winter Moon wields on this album is the organ. If you want to capture the essence of a muggy bog at midnight, throw a Hammond into the mix and behold as croaking frogs and vaporous clouds of mist appear before your very eyes (ears?). This melodic accent is most pleasing on my personal album favorite, the rootsy, semi-acoustic hoedown “Calling of the Night”; I actually mistook the organ’s quavering high pitch on this song for a chorus of crickets on my first listen through.

Overall, Make Real, Make Believe is a fun, energetic listen from front to back, one that culls from a variety of influences without aping any of them. The thunderous power of Milly Moon’s voice is what first stands out, but upon slightly deeper listening, the strength and versatility of the musicians behind her becomes apparent. Perfect listening for evening strolls through haunted swamps, midnight pentagram sessions, or any other time that you want to get a little witchy, warlocky, or just plain weird.  

Listen to more from Winter Moon: https://wintermoonband.bandcamp.com/

More from Kozmik Artifactz: https://kozmik-artifactz.com/

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