Moon & Pollution – The Box Borealis
The electronic pop of St. Paul, Minnesota’s Moon & Pollution will catch you unawares. This is the first highly productive recording collision between two formidable figures on the indie music scene. Molly Dean’s vocal range and profoundly literate, yet suggestive, lyrical content flawlessly blends with Graham O’Brien’s bold production style. His emphasis on omnipresent drums and imaginative patterns is a surprisingly good fit for Moon & Pollution’s songwriting and Dean’s often ethereal vocals. Another point to their credit is, despite any affectation, these are tracks clearly built for live performance with only a small amount of augmentation, if any. The duo, likewise, demonstrates a wide understanding of dynamics that makes many of the album’s songs unfold in dramatic ways.
They start things with the album’s title cut. It’s an inflated, though actually relatively simple, electronica soundscape that gives Dean a vast sonic palette upon which to leave her vocal magic. “Moving Scene” cleans things up a bit and relies on a sparser framework, but the increased space allows Dean to inhabit the song in an unique way. The band’s namesake song, “Moon and Pollution”, brings together distinctly modern rhythms bordering on trip-hop with one of Dean’s most ethereal vocals. Many of the songs on The Box Borealis derive added strength from their remote, alien melancholy. These are haunted landscapes where sounds and words alike arise, prod our imaginations, and then disappear. “The Magnetic North” reverts to a more pronounced experimental air. Fortunately, “experimental” with this duo doesn’t mean hard to relate to – O’Brien is expert with creating meaningful electronica textures that never abandon melody or coherence entirely. There’s no sound for the sake of sound alone and “The Magnetic North”, like similar songs of its ilk, isn’t really experimental at all – just individual. True artistry resides with those who are able to filter their influences through their own personalities and experiences in a compelling way.
“Darkroom Double” takes a turn into musical darkness with an intense, pressure packed arrangement bubbling over with red-lined percussion, understated guitar phrases, and a sparkling electronica backdrop that plays like it’s embedded into your ear. Dean gives listeners one of her best vocals. The album’s songwriting peak comes with “Solace Sandwich”. The biggest reason why it succeeds on such a level is O’Brien’s highly creative arrangement, particularly the percussion. There’s no question that this is an album without any obvious concessions to commerciality, but there’s also little question that if there’s one moment on The Box Borealis ideal for the widest possible audience, that moment arrives with this song. The hypnotic undertow of the song “I Know” comes, in no small part, from the relatively short piano phrase that opens the track and continues snaking through it until the end. There’s a strong funereal quality surrounding this song. The album’s second to last track, “Alter Eagle”, merges the duo’s commercial inclinations with their individualistic propensities to stretch boundaries. Despite that propensity, the duo brings the album to a close on a very different note. “The Lonely Quiet” is Moon & Pollution’s turn at a bit of balladry, but naturally, they approach it with a decidedly different slant. It brings one of the year’s more interesting efforts to a satisfying conclusion.
8 out of 10 stars.