Style clashes and fusions often produce some of music’s most thrilling breakthroughs. Moon and Pollution is an impressive new duo hailing from the St. Paul, Minnesota area quickly making a reputation for themselves as creative, challenging purveyors of vocal, melodic, and rhythmic art. Make no mistake that Moon and Pollution are capable entertainers. The blend achieved on their debut, The Box Borealis, stirs the body and mind alike. However, there’s no question that the duo of Molly Dean and Graham O’Brien are aiming for something a bit more. Moon and Pollution write songs with an eye towards standing the test of time.
The title song opens the album in grand, cinematic style. Moon and Pollution is, obviously, a musical unit focusing on textures. Graham O’Brien’s backing tracks emphasizes thunderous percussion, brief or understated tempo shifts, and evolving synthesizer sheen. The song is rich with melodic content, but even within a relatively short duration, Moon and Pollution elongate the melody for dramatic effect. The album’s second track, “Moving Scene”, is a much more chaotic affair that, nevertheless, maintains the same focus on weaving memorable textures to carry Dean’s often beautifully emotive vocals. The production, unfortunately, obscures the song’s lyrical content and perhaps a better balance could be struck in the future, but these are compelling tracks nonetheless. “Moon and Pollution” continues the trend of increasingly busy percussion, theatrical compositional textures, and unexpected instrumentation. The inclusion of piano here is a particularly affecting move.
“Darkroom Double” veers much closer to establishing an outright groove than any song before it. It begins with unadorned Fender Rhodes dispatching meaty notes before segueing into the song proper. “Solace Sandwich” is one of The Box Borealis’ peak moments. The song introduces itself with a lightly wafting synthesizer swirl before locking down on the album’s tightest groove yet. The backbeat has impressive, forward-moving syncopation that gives it a strong pull towards its inevitable conclusion. The production achieves better balance here than it does on earlier songs and, as a result, Dean’s poetic musings are more clearly rendered. Another memorable moment arrives with “I Know”. It’s a menacing, heavy-handed dirge that makes much of its contrasts. The dynamics here are immense. O’Brien’s thunderous drums hit like incoming cannon fire. Dean’s impassioned upper register wrings out the song’s dramatic potential.
The Box Borealis’ penultimate song “Alter Eagle” opens in high minimalist style with a series of carefully timed electronic pulses soon forming a melody. It has a more relaxed mood than the immediate preceding songs and returns the album to its more progressive, if not outright experimental, soundscapes of The Box Borealis’ first half. “The Lonely Quiet” strips back the heavy production hanging on the earlier songs in favor of a spartan approach that highlights Dean’s vocal. It’s a haunted final outing on what begs to be considered among the year’s best debuts. Moon & Pollution cover all of the bases – they connect with audiences thanks to the penchant for melodies, a solid command of songwriting fundamentals, and a spirited artsy edge that never risks pretension.
9 out of 10 stars.