Moon & Pollution – The Box Borealis
The debut album entitled The Box Borealis from Moon & Pollution, a duo showcasing the combined talents of Molly Dean and Graham O’Brien, has earned a few labels since its release. Some call it electronica pop. Others stress its shoegaze tendencies. There’s a certain amount of truth to these labels and more, but they often unintentionally limit the scope of the duo’s achievement on this ten song release. Various elements waft in out of the mix and achieve a fluid union. Some listener’s initial thoughts might beggar off at the idea of strong percussion and unusual, almost hip hop tempos seamlessly weaving around deeply emotional and quasi-classical vocals, but they’ll quickly realize the error of their ways. There’s an underrated, almost imperceptible jazz influence peppering the rhythms and the songs often play like heavily orchestrated, plotted affairs that nevertheless play quite naturally and unfold in a credible way.
“The Box Borealis” kicks things off and immediately challenges listeners. O’Brien conjures a dense orchestral swirl of electronica anchored around thunderous snare beats while Dean’s voice, perhaps buried deeper in the mix than what many might like, pushes her chords to capture the highest ranges she can reach. “Moon and Pollution” has a pensive, slowly developing beginning with tasteful electronica “bass” notes underpinning a light synthesized sheen. Much effort has been expended on reinforcing Dean’s vocal with restrained use of post-production effects, but these moves sometimes dull the emotion of her voice. The pursuit of atmospherics for particular songs sometimes blinds the duo’s songwriting to the virtues of simplicity and unguarded moments. Like other tracks, however, “Moon and Pollution” makes stunning use of space and jarring dynamics between different passages. Keyboards open “Darkroom Double” on a bit of a foreboding note, but the Moon & Pollution never overplay their hand in that regard by embracing hamfisted dramatics. There’s a similar philosophy informing the striking “Solace Sandwich”, but the song’s electronic opening soon gives way to a delicious mid-tempo strut that brings slinky to the song in an unexpected way.
“I Know” is another unexpected turn that finds the duo working in their darkest mode by far. The Strum and Drang of this song has an almost industrial edge, but there’s enough electronica and vocal style here to keep the song tightly tethered to the duo’s signature style. “Alter Eagle” moves at a slow churn that builds up great tension along the way. It’s one of the album’s longer tracks and the extra time gives the duo a chance to stretch out their customary turns. It results in one of the more memorable moments on the album’s second half. The Box Borealis closes with “The Lonely Quiet”, perhaps the work’s biggest showcase for Dean and the vocal pyrotechnics she can conjure when given daylight to move.
There’s usually a note of tentativeness or a sense of let’s go for broke on debut releases, even from veteran performers. There’s none of that here. It’s as if Dean and O’Brien entered the studio with absolute confidence that this seeming style clash was, actually, a proverbial match made in musical heaven. It’s never a pretentious affair or comes off heavy handed. Instead, Moon & Pollution are a duo who clearly understands what they’re doing and where they’re going.
9 out of 10 stars