The breakup record trope is one that’s been played out endlessly in popular music, across genres and decades. Over and over, the dissolution of a relationship leaves many a despondent songwriter negotiating sadness, seeking solace in the act of putting pen to paper and sharing their story with anyone willing to press play.
By definition, A Year With 13 Moons is a breakup record, as it comes following the end of Jefre Cantu-Ledesma’s marriage and his return to the U.S. from the couple’s home in Germany. But Cantu-Ledesma is no sad sack songwriter. Rather than try to translate emotion to the written word – a process that more often than not lends itself to sappy, sentimentalist cliché rather than true introspection in the realm of music, he lays out a lush sonic landscape, constructs an aural brain map. A Year With 13 Moons is the sound of a breakup. It’s the opaque white static in the back of the brain that’s untranslatable. It’s the sound of confusion as unpredictable emotions come in waves, alternating between wide-eyed, silent sedation and uncontrollable fury. Words couldn’t do it justice. They could only strip raw emotion of its visceral tangibility.
The only words in 13 Moons come by way of song titles, which – combined with the album’s title – suggest a rough narrative arc, a progression of sorts. The first track, “The Last Time I Saw Your Face,” sets up a beautifully plush strings loop then assaults it with squelches of noise. As the record progresses, light drum machine touches are added, airy strings-like washes are combatted by crunchy, compressed static textures. It ebbs and flows, waxes and wanes, up to the last track, “Remains,” which sounds quite literally like its name. A hesitant, stumbling drum machine patters its bare feet on a tiled floor; a note unexpectedly flutters in, oscillates and dies. And that’s it – like waking one morning to find the seasons changed and the pain gone, the moon’s persistent pull relaxed.
Cantu-Ledesma’s self-described goal of “somehow translating the fog of images, people and places… into a body of work that could still be ambiguous and leave space for the listener to enter” succeeds beautifully on A Year With 13 Moons, supplying a blueprint and building a new perspective rather than unnecessarily drowning in deconstructed memories.
[For Field Note Stenographers, 2015]