Seattle quartet Poor Moon’s self-titled debut is awash with the same pastoral imagery, flawless harmonies and late 60’s folk sensibilities as Helplessness Blues, the last record by the much-celebrated Fleet Foxes. Once one does their research its not hard to understand why: the band is lead by the Foxes’ primary back-up vocalist and bass player Christian Wargo and keyboardist Casey Wescott. The bulk of the drums on the record were also played by recently departed Josh Tilman, and band leader Robin Pecknold appears on one track, which further the association with one of the most acclaimed bands of the last five years.
However, much like Wilco’s offshoot Loose Fur, this provides no hindrance to Wargo and Co. The similarities to their parent band are evident but the strength of songwriting along with interesting percussive arrangements as well as Wargo’s vocals - which shine in the limelight - makes the record that much stronger than most other side projects.
The gut-string guitar lead opener ‘Clouds Below’ is a beautifully stripped back ballad whilst ‘Holiday’ features a hypnotic descending vibraphone and wonderful clean electric guitar refrains. ‘Phantom Light’ is another understated gem, with tasteful bells and scattering snare drums, coupled with lyrics about a mysterious light coming from a dead man’s home deliver evocative imagery. It also features a Mark Mothersbaugh (long time Wes Anderson soundtrack guru) style harpsichord break.
‘Heaven’s Door’ sees a darker side to the band’s sound with Wargo facing his fears of the afterlife: ‘Gotta friend of the Devil living in my soul/And the taste of flames in the back of my throat’. The track also features an eerie organ part from Wescott, whose various keyboards deftly ebb and flow in and out of the record. ‘Come Home’ is perhaps the album’s highlight, with lyrics that along with some of the Foxes’ best (‘White Winter Hymnal’, ‘The Shrine’), showcase the power of someone just simply singing about a time of year or a time of day.
One criticism that could be made is that the record, at bang on thirty minutes, is a trifle short but overall it's a well rounded collection of modern folk songs, with hints of classical arrangement and choral harmonizing.
Poor Moon is a great testament to the depth of talent present in such groups as the Fleet Foxes and hopefully other large, successful bands’ sprout side-projects in the future. When so many musicians are present in one project, surely letting off a little artistic steam can only be a good thing, that is, if an album like Poor Moon is the result.