Poor Moon / Daniel Rossen

I want to talk about these two EP's, for they are intensely similar in a lot of ways. Poor Moon is a bit of a supergroup - a group of young men, two of them being brothers involved in The Christmas Cards, and the other two being Christian Wargo and Casey Wescott, both well-known for their previous work both in Crystal Skulls and Fleet Foxes - Daniel Rossen is, of course, the resident singer/songwriter of Grizzly Bear coming out with his first solo effort. Both EP's are five songs long, both are indie rock/folk releases, and they both came out in late March, Illusion coming out exactly one week after Silent Hour/Golden Mile. And, uh, they both have blue covers, I guess. Upon acquiring both of these, I found it incredibly hard not to compare them to each other stylistically and analyze both in light of each other, and so instead of choosing just one to review I'll share some thoughts about both in this double header.

First up is Poor Moon. We begin with a lone man and an acoustic guitar dripping with reverb. Illusion eases into a quiet, longing solitude, lamenting 'Wanna learn to rely on what I first decide when the moment comes, so I don't have to think twice.' A simple song seemingly of regret that nevertheless has an appropriate, solid execution. What it lacks in instrumentation it more than makes up for it with tone and feeling. Next up, the seriously subdued band comes in to support the plodding 'Anyplace.' Haunting, sorrowful harmonies paired with sullen, deadpan delivery manages to stay surprisingly interesting and engaging. Suddenly, we have a jaunty pop tune that echoes Crystal Skulls far better than anything else on the album, yet it continues the somewhat subdued feel. It's lacking the youthful energy but keeps the iconic twang, which ultimately just ends up being a bit disappointing for me. I realize this is a "different" band but it's incredibly difficult to not want to compare it to Crystal Skulls, especially since that band has not released new material in years. A solid song that doesn't reach its full potential. While not the biggest earworm on this short release, 'Once Before' serves as a credit to the songwriting skills of these veterans. Fantastic lead-ins and bridges are what this song is all about and keeps this soulful, brooding tune moving right along. We end on another acoustic lonely acoustic ballad, this time with Fleet Foxes-style folk vibes coupled with the traditional, delicate vocal harmonies that make the Foxes such a joy to listen to. Melodies that drop off right before closure, that raw, woodsy singing, the understated-yet-intricate plucking all bring together this short, contemplative EP.

Charging into Silent Song/Golden Mile, the first song exemplifies what is contained in this 20-some minute EP - expertly crafted chord lines that end up repeating multiple times, stop-and-start vocals that make it a bit difficult to keep with his train of thought, and a no-nonsense sober outlook that can seem a bit cold. Continuing on, detailed chord and time signature change-ups accompany a fascinating verse, which sadly segues into a lazy, formulaic chorus with a descending bassline. He's following the structure to a T, over and over again throughout the song without introducing anything new or exciting - the few times he does veer off, it's into some random, slightly-different guitar strumming that seems pointless. The third track treats us to acoustic noodling with warm strings, and the only melody is contained in his sparse vocals which fail to safely guide the song in a defined direction. The noodling, and the build-up feel of the track, combined with his constant need to go back to what has already been done (fitting, for the song title is 'Return To Form') makes it hard to not consider the song aimless. It suddenly bursts with life after about three minutes, bringing the whole band in, changing tacks every four measures or so, thankfully climaxing into a real explosion, however short-lived. A slow, ambient piano march follows, with short chord dips that ultimately achieves its goal of subterranean suspense. It's a big letdown when this long (long) song adds some soaring angel voices and... that's it. The most cohesive, put-together sounding song on the EP, 'Golden Mile' is pleasant with an upbeat drumline with high, Grizzly Bear-style guitar slides and a building, frantic feel.

So, what's happening here? I feel that Rossen is being overly ambitious with his songs, worked on and over-composed to the point of tedium. The production and instrumentation are stellar - however, the tunes fall back on a comfortable formula: build-up, chord changes every couple measures, vocals blowing in with lots of pauses, and noodling over melody. Poor Moon's songs are simpler, yet they deliver. They're full of warmth and feeling, the songs feel like they are heading somewhere or telling a story, the melodies are clearly defined and guide the song along purposefully and concisely. When Poor Moon eschews the whole band in favor of a simpler sound, I feel as if the singer is speaking directly to me, sharing some hidden, shameful thoughts, making it naturally intimate - when Daniel Rossen does the same, I somehow feel like it's an overly-long escalation, a constant looking-ahead vibe that fails to satisfy me or have me connect fairly, considering it doesn't always pay off. They're both not intensely related to their previous projects, but Poor Moon does a great job of taking small bits and pieces of the old styles and transforming them into something brand new. I'm surprised to learn that Silent Hour/Golden Mile is made up of songs originally meant to be on a Grizzly Bear album, because I can't imagine them that way - instead of a fresh take on the old sound, it sounds somewhat alien, like something vital is missing. The real question this leaves me with, is: Why has Poor Moon been relatively overlooked in comparison to Rossen?

Poor Moon - Illusion

Here's a sample.
Here's the album. (320)
Here's the last.fm.
Here's the... tumblr?

Daniel Rossen - Silent Hour/Golden Mile

Here's a sample.
Here's the album. (320)
Here's the last.fm.

Decide for yourself.



Cal said...

This blog is pretty good. Keep it up.

Maria Paz said...

I wholeheartedly disagree. Poor Moon released a good album but it's not iconic, nor different.... I guess what I'm really trying to say is that they didn't create their own sound. On the other hand, Daniel Rossen has a sound that's very much his own and that's the great part about Silent Hour/Golden Mile, that it stands out from his Department of Eagles/Grizzly Bear work, while at the same time showing you what Rossen brings to both groups ..... But that's just me, either way, thank you for sharing!

Post a Comment