Arts concert review

Moonchild vibes at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Moonchild’s songs soothe but do not heave

9039 moonchild 2   nathan liang
Moonchild (left to right: Andris Mattson, Amber Navran, Max Bryk) performed at Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum April 25.
Courtesy of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Opening acts: Camille Merendail, Carson Schmidt
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
April 25

There’s something peculiar about the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s concert venue. You walk in through a beautiful modernist entrance forged from concrete and glass and climb the light lacquered wooden stairs to the second floor. When you enter the performance venue, however, in front of a dozen scattered chairs is the center stage. From a seat upfront, the pianist has to be careful not to trod on your toes as they walk onstage. Look up, and you’ll see several floors of open balconies and seats behind glass and wooden railings. The venue's spirit is a neat inversion of that of the typical concert venue; while typically the artists look below at their throngs of fans, here the fans look down at the couple performers onstage. Staring up at the balconies on the upper levels, I couldn’t help but think of an aquarium, where artists were performing like some exotic aqua-fauna behind glass.

There were two opening acts: Camille Merendail, a precocious fifteen-year-old from Boston, and Carson Schmidt, a Berklee College of Music student with four albums on Spotify. Neither were stirring. Merendail’s rendition of Radiohead’s “Creep” came across as rehearsed and just a little bit too fast, despite the pleasant lilt in her voice. Carson Schmidt’s performance was technically impressive, with its rapid leaps in octaves and falsetto, yet the lyrics seemed to portray the same vague scenes of emotional distress that inspire many forgettable pop songs. It was around this point that I decided that I did not like the second row at the Isabella Gardner concert venue so much after all; after nearly an hour of declining my head at a forty-five degree angle, the muscles on the back of my neck began to feel strained.

Finally, Moonchild took the stage. Amber Navran, lead singer, saxophonist, and flutist, strode out, clad entirely in red in a billowing floral robe. The rest of the band, Max Bryk and Andris Mattson — the lead and the bass piano players — followed in t-shirts and black pants. And then they began to play.

Navran’s voice is a consistent soothing whisper. This is reflected in the sound of the band as a whole. Moonchild’s swirling shimmer evokes names like Erykah Badu and J Dilla, but without their crispness. Each song comes across as typically pleasant neo-soul jazz fusion, with little variation between them. The lyrics are fresh — Navran’s internal conflict feels real when she sings “I hate I know your birthday… // I just wanna be free (like the love I was savin)” — but the repetition of staccato diminished chords in every song comes across as flat.

If you spend enough time on Youtube listening to ambient tracks, you’ll stumble across the vast but depressingly similar lo-fi hip hop genre of videos. They all tend to have the same two bar muffled hi-hat kicks, four bar repeated II-V-I jazz-chords, and a sample from a noir-film. Moonchild’s songs at their worst remind me of this, which isn’t unpleasant so much as relaxing. What’s more, if you lean your head downwards and close your eyes, you might just find yourself being shaken awake and told that it’s time to go.