Cousin Moon’s Polyphonic Ride

You can call Cousin Moon many things, but “band” may not be a term all-inclusive enough to fit the breadth of what they do.

Cousin Moon is and isn’t a band. Yes, they are a group of people that play music together, and, yes, they just released an expansive album, a self-titled 17-track doozy of a project. It’s just that the term “band” cannot hold the entirety of their identity.

Cousin Moon is more like a recording collective, one whose roots took hold in 2004 between Karl Helander and his cousin, Aaron Moon, and one that’s been evolving since. The album itself is a masterpiece of DIY resolve. It places you on a vibrating string, dips you into melancholy wells, and then places you gently on the ground, slightly out of breath. Its sonic texture and layered harmonies leave your ears searching for an end to its depth. “Faraway,” a Karl tune, fills you with helium and takes your mind on a run around the block, while “Florentine,” Max’s song, weeps you into a trance. Cousin Moon is both deeply nostalgic and starkly contemporary.

Cousin Moon, Massachusetts band

Cousin Moon album art / created by Karl Helander and Phoebe Helander

When Karl met Max Wareham and Phoebe Berkel (now Phoebe Helander), he quickly folded the two into his familial project with Aaron. They were called Pale Cowboy, and they played out as a four-piece band. They rehearsed, played shows, and developed a local fan base.

Then, they met Andy Cass, who began recording the group tenaciously, and joined the group as their bassist and sound engineer. “A big part of the equation was Andy. He’s a part of the band, and he’s always believed in the group, at times more than us,” Phoebe says. “The key difference between us and other groups that like recording is that we have Andy.” The group decided to prioritize writing and recording, so they played their last show in January of 2014 and turned inward to record the album. Together they began chasing a high standard of quality.

“Having something to lean against was a natural propellant to hold down the sound,” Karl says, speaking of Andy and the group’s need to develop a common language. They started with around 30 songs and experimented endlessly. “We kept adding new instruments and sounds, and then subtracting—trying to create more polyphony,” Karl says. “As songwriters, a lot of the music we like is larger than life. As you start to develop a song, it tells you what it wants. We had unlimited tracks and time because we had the engineer.”

Cousin Moon, Massachusetts band

Engineer Andy Cass / Photo by Georgia Teensma

Now, three years after its inception, the album is finished. Cousin Moon won’t be touring, but they’re moving forward. As Sleeper Cave Records, the group is now recording other groups. “We have three separate projects that will be coming out of the studio soon,” Karl says. Adds Phoebe, turning to Karl, “You and Andy are now a two-headed recording beast.”

“We’ve got some stuff cooking,” Max says, and it’s clear that wherever this group is going, it’s upward and it’s for the sake of the song.

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Photos by Caitlin Driscoll
Janet ReynoldsCousin Moon’s Polyphonic Ride

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