Poor Moon – Poor MoonPosted by Robert Catherall
The collective resumé of Poor Moon boasts an impressive musical history. Combining principal songwriter Christian Wargo with his Fleet Foxes bandmate Casey Wescott, the Seattle darlings have each shared the stage with David Bazan in Pedro the Lion and also comprise the indie-pop outfit Crystal Skulls. To complete Poor Moon’s quartet the veteran musicians recruited long-time friends Ian and Peter Murray. Given their repertoire, the group has a lot to live up to.
At first, the self-titled follow-up to 2011′s Illusion EP appears to be another collection of lullabies for those wishing they were from a simpler time as it emulates the wholesome feelings of 1960s folk-pop. It comes off as a hopeful getaway from the blur of modern life (and in a sense it is) that conjures a romanticized vision of beauty in simplicity. Dig deeper though and listeners will find Wargo’s sleepy arrangements shrouded in dark catharsis.
In 2008 Wargo set to work on what has come to be known as Poor Moon, composing songs alone after hours in the studio. As a project that was interrupted a number of times by his work with Fleet Foxes and touring, it should come as no surprise that a handful of these compositions feel unfinished. Easy to engage, yet never fully realized, songs like “Same Way” exude a childish wonder that is so over the top it becomes unbelievable while the mundane repetition of “Waiting For” acts only to sustain mediocrity in the absence of genuine content. Meanwhile “Holiday” makes casual references to 60s psych-pop in the opening lines, “On a holiday, you won’t be taking any calls / You won’t be surrounded by the same four walls / This will be the last time anybody hears your footsteps in the hall / Leavin’ through the front door feeling ten foot tall”. And even though Wargo’s voice is heavenly on “Phantom Light”, it produces indistinct lyrics so ethereal it’s difficult to care about what he’s got to say. His vocals become as non-descript as any of the other instruments and through their featherlight presentation the reverberated whispers end up sounding like tired, uninspired remnants of old Fleet Foxes material. All is not lost, however, and there are some worthwhile poetics to be found on Poor Moon.
In their finer moments, Wargo’s meticulous arrangements and dark/light lyrical dichotomy render a likeness to Nick Drake, Crosby, Stills & Nash, or even Buffalo Springfield. When the subject matter is discernible Wargo’s best songwriting surfaces to embrace themes of detachment, hope, and redemption. Through its marching bass drum and devilish organ, “Heaven’s Door” details a man’s inability to give up addictive sins that he falsely believes will lead him to the placid ecstasy of Heaven. Instead he ends up walking away, head hung in shame, as a fallen angel coaxes him away from tranquillity. Redemption is finally sought, however, on the bright and triumphant “Come Home” as Wargo’s conscience encourages himself to do away with his sinning, “One day you will say the right words / Same as I remember / Speak to me: / ‘I’m coming home’”.
As a subtle distillation of their previous commitments, the album is sure to please fans of Seattle folk music with another thirty minutes of dreamy, introspective pop. And while the album (predictably) plays off the pop sensibilities of parent band Fleet Foxes, Wargo and Pecknold have certain, subtle distinctions that should not be written off. But if Poor Moon wishes to continue their direct mimicry, Wargo’s lyricism will have to be less bashful. Poor Moon is a diary of his personal demons that fails to ever fully expose itself and until all the pages have been revisited, it will continue to only tease (or bore) audiences.