The Dark Side of Poor Moon’s Beautiful Whimsy
by Adam Perry for Boulder Weekly, 10/4/2012
The Baltimore dream-pop duo Beach House, which headlines the Boulder Theater on Sunday with some auxiliary musicians, has been steadily touring since its inception in 2004. The group’s silky indie rock, as much Nico-era Velvet Underground as Euro-pop in the vein of the most accessible Cocteau Twins and Blonde Redhead, is steadily gaining mainstream attention. Bloom, released in May, debuted at No. 7 on the Billboard charts, briefly sharing space in the top 10 with household names like Adele, Carrie Underwood and Norah Jones.
Beach House’s opener on Sunday, however, has taken the polar opposite career path. Poor Moon, which also returns to Colorado Nov. 1 for a date at the Walnut Room, features two members of Fleet Foxes, the well-known Seattle indie darlings who skyrocketed to wide acclaim in 2008 with a brilliant eponymous debut. Poor Moon’s own self-titled first album, released in August, includes the instantly recognizable harmonies of Christian Wargo and Casey Wescott, whose voices have enhanced the woodsy lullabies of young Fleet Foxes mastermind Robin Pecknold.
More than anything, Poor Moon’s quirky pop — which is coyly dark in subject matter while presenting itself as beautiful whimsy — is influenced by the saccharine ’60s rock of bands like Canned Heat, whose song “Poor Moon” gave Wargo and Co. an idea for their side project’s name.
“I like Canned Heat, and the song ‘Poor Moon’ hit me on many levels when I heard it the first time,” Wargo told me recently from the road. “I felt I could get lost in it. It struck me as sad and rather odd but also very sincere.”
“Sad, rather odd, and very sincere” is also a spot-on description of Poor Moon. There is a lot about Poor Moon’s music that sounds old, specifically harkening back to the soaring yet gorgeously simple pop-rock of ’60s heroes like the Byrds, the Beach Boys and Crosby, Stills & Nash. One might even call Wargo’s songs archaic in their inviting genuineness, due not just to the pleasantness of his songwriting and the quartet’s breezy harmonies but also the obviously stripped-down and retro recording techniques used on Poor Moon.
“Those [’60s] recording sessions and the way songs were approached has always resonated with me and I’ve formed my own ideas about what sonic aspects make that music distinct and powerful,” Wargo says. “However, I also listen to modern music and even Top 40 radio, so I like to take it all in and enjoy a little bit of almost everything.”
Music driven by whistling and xylophone generally isn’t in the Top 40. Then again, nor is anything that sounds like Poor Moon — unless we’re talking about the Top 40 circa Victorian England — but it’s easy to hear the unabashed pop inspiration coloring Poor Moon tracks like “Phantom Light” and “Holiday,” placing the group’s sound somewhere not far from the bashful folk of Blue Rubie or Ian and Sylvia but also still near the Fleet Foxes’ lush, neo-pastoral sincerity, though Wargo’s songs are far more weird.
“Got a friend of the devil living in my soul,” he sings in “Heaven’s Door,” “and the taste of flames in the back of my throat / as I bow my head to surrender control to the master plan.”
His lyrics can be oddly menacing, but Wargo has a talent for juxtaposing sweet, sinful sorrow with friendly, dreamy music that beckons smiles. And kids love it.
When we spoke last month, I had to tell Wargo that my 2-year-old daughter is in love with his music and will be attending the Boulder Theater show Sunday. Ask her what music she likes and she will immediately respond, “Poor Moon.”
“That’s cool,” he says. “We may have a job opening for her. Our team of advertisers and media experts hasn’t made a campaign directed specifically at children below the age of 5, but we’re working on it. You should be seeing lots of Poor Moon commercials popping up on Nickelodeon.”
As for the difference between touring with the hugely successful Fleet Foxes and hitting the road with Poor Moon, conveying his own vision, Wargo says he feels “lucky.”
“It’s bomb,” he says. “I like being in a van. I like the smaller rooms and getting to interact with people on a more intimate level. Don’t get me wrong — larger shows are awesome, too, but there’s something really great about turning up the volume in a small space and feeling the energy bounce off the walls.”