Willy Moon, the singer-songwriter who plays the Gramercy Theatre tonight, made me suspicious from the first. When a press release hails a weedy young London-based New Zealander as “Bo Diddley remixed by Swizz Beatz,” the wise critic arches a skeptical eyebrow. When that same New Zealander appears in publicity photos looking like a kind of mod David Niven, with lacquered hair and immaculate three-piece suits, the warning sirens begin to wail. It was all too neatly conceptual, too fashion-victim-y, too arch, too British. I could smell the fish-and-chip-paper stink of hyperbolic U.K. press notices wafting across the Atlantic.
Then I heard the record and realized I was right — and wrong. Moon doesn't sound anything like Bo Diddley; he sounds even less like Swizz Beatz. But his debut album, Here's Willy Moon, is high-concept Britpop that works. The formula is ingeniously simple. Moon's songs mix the ferocity and starkness of early rock and roll with the blunt, pummeling beats of early hip-hop. He looks like a male model, but he doesn't sing like one; I like the vibe in his videos, the way his Blue Steel pout curls into a sneer when he pushes out his vocals. The songs — about girls and the awesomeness of Willy Moon, mostly — are sharp and, even better, short; they don't belabor the point. Moon has got brevity down; he has some wit too. As for soul: That's a work-in-progress, but who knows?