Music Review: Ava Luna – Moon 2

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Ava Luna

Moon 2

[Western Vinyl; 2018]

Rating: 2.5/5

Situated in New York, Ava Luna has developed their own prog-y, punk-y sort of soul-pop that skirts the limits of traditional songwriting, dissolving form into a pretty imaginative, exciting, and elusive stew. This came to fruition most fully with their third full-length, 2014’s Electric Balloon, which folded lingering hooks and evocative images into a sort of bare-bones, guitar-driven, formless mélange. With Infinite House, a year later, Ava Luna took this arrival and developed it into something larger, somewhat more impressive, and in many ways more palatable. The deviating twists and turns at play in a song were given a sense of intent and direction.

Here on Moon 2, their fifth full-length, Ava Luna stretch to reinvent their core tenets — democratizing the songwriting process, embracing repetition and pop song structure, pushing electronic instrumentation and digital production to the center — to create something more transportive. Attempting to place their listeners under the beams of a new moon, they maintain familiar traits but deliver them in an adapted style: all the same matter and things and stuff, but with a newly governed, magnetic dynamism at play under the surface. A sort of a pop take on their more amorphous and elusive mode of play — songs are just as difficult to track, but more generously leave room for the repetition of phrases and the reprise of sections — Moon 2 finds a more welcoming, more enveloping, and more fantastic world than the garage-y atmospheres of past albums allowed. It should then be something like a surrealist escape, but what it picks up in atmosphere it drops in spectacle, content, and hook.

Moon 2 by Ava Luna

The step toward pop-grade production comes with an aversion to the harsher sounds that the band had picked up from industrial post-punk and no-wave. The result is more welcoming, but it also boxes things in tightly, giving up a great deal of dynamic range and disallowing what potential their arrangements had for dramatic swerves in tempo and texture (often a way of highlighting key moments in the past). For instance, Electric Balloon’s “PRPL” (that album’s closest touch point to the spacey brand of pop found here) dissolves into an airy, spacious instrumental bridge that somehow serves as the song’s centerpiece. Part of what makes it work is that the band naturally allowed the tempo and feel to dip slightly as they entered the section, picking it up again for the final verse. A similar effect occurs with the massive untamed swells that opened Infinite House within the song “Company.” The unorthodox delivery of that song’s explosive chorus owed itself to an elastic concept of tempo seemingly borrowed from sludge and doom metal.

This elasticity and range is unfortunately missing due to the production decisions made for Moon 2. Hooks don’t erupt, textures don’t burst open, and snares don’t even crack. The surface feels shockingly uniform throughout the album’s duration, especially considering how much it really does travel musically: “Mine” boasts an unexpected and successfully cinematic moment of strings; “Walking with an Enemy” nicely revisits the sort of narrative strut that delivered Infinite House’s “Steve Polyester,” here excited with a light jitter; and “Unless” is propelled by a starkly minimal, Afrobeat-styled groove.

Other moments unfortunately fall short of their potential. The guitar solo on “Centerline” brushes up against complete tastelessness (and I write that with the utmost admiration), but its soaring heights and indulgent modulations feel unsupported by the even, tidy pocket that sits below. Likewise, many moments external to the songs themselves — like the short processed vocal outro to “Set It Off” — deliver a forceful and exciting change in form and quality, but they lack the dynamic emphasis that would produce a real binding moment to propel the album through its sequence. With Moon 2, Ava Luna modestly succeed along the same rubric that we apply when we listen to Steely Dan or Daft Punk: the result is impressive, pleasant, and inventive, but ultimately feels too insubstantial for us to garner much from it.

♫ Listen: Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – “To Follow and Lead”

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Hark: beloved modular synth sorcerer Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith is returning to our humble dimension in order to bring us a new record. The Kid, Aurelia Smith’s follow-up to last year’s smash EARS, is a double album tracing “four defining cognitive and emotional stages of the human lifespan.” This tour through the evolution of life itself is handled with the same subtle, brain-opening composition style we have all come to expect from the artist, and as testament, we submit to you “To Follow and Lead,” the record’s second single. Stream it down below.

In case you missed it, Aurelia Smith will also be taking her wheel of life on the road this fall. Check the dates here, and make sure to pay KAS a visit before she re-materializes inside whatever spectral temple she inhabits in the fog above Orcas Island.

The Kid appears October 6 from Western Vinyl. Pre-order it now.

Premiere: Joseph Shabason – “Tite Cycle”

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A woman plucks an eight-stringed mandolin in the desert until she falls asleep, head lolling and wind-whipped hair confused across her face until she finally lays down and shuts her eyes. From a vantage point behind the moon (a dune beyond), a lion watches with reflective eyes. The scene is night. The color is jazz. The objects don’t belong. They look like they’ve never been seen before, imagined by an alien artist. Saxophone shooting stars; lush pads.

Joseph Shabason noodles and preens his way through a rather loose “cycle” of chord changes on “Tite Cycle,” the latest track to be released from his upcoming debut album, Aytche. Shabason is the saxophonist in Destroyer, keyboardist of DIANA, and a willing participant in sultry nu-stylings. His sax work sounds positively drenched and negatively charged, bursting into the foreground. It’s ambient music steeped in synth, but above the synthetics are layers of gorgeous, organic soloing.

Sink into “Title Cycle” below, and pre-order Aytche from Western Vinyl. It’s out on August 25.

The Kid is alright: Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith prepares pulsating comeback with new album, single, and tour

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Ok, so the “comeback” in the headline above is a little misleading: L.A.-based singer/songwriter/synth-whisperer Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith has actually been issuing a steady collection of subtle, enigmatic electronic material over the past five years. She stealthily slides from writer to musician to arranger to producer to engineer with the ease of a sonic shapeshifter and is a constant go-to score creator (e.g. Reggie Watts’ “Brasilia: City of the Future” short), in-demand remixer (e.g. Max Richter’s “Dream 3” reworking), and sought-after collaborator (e.g. RVNG’s FRKWYS Vol. 13: Sunergy album with mentor and fellow Buchla devotee Suzanne Ciani).

But STILL: anytime Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith announces a new album of her own, it sort of feels like a comeback event — or if you prefer, a “welcome back” one! And so, let us all welcome back Smith with open arms and happy ears when she releases her latest project on October 6 on Western Vinyl.

There’s nothing infantile about Smith’s sound but that hasn’t stopped her from titling her latest album The Kid. For it, Smith has created a concept album based on four stages of human development, from birth to death, with individual personality-building steps in between. Smith’s first single from The Kid, “An Intention,” is taken from the phase of the album representing life’s first stage, and you can listen to it —and play it to your infant child in its crib — down below. Then, after you come down from that adorability-high, you can pre-order the album from Smith’s Bandcamp.

Meanwhile, the woman’s calendar is also packed with shows for the next few months, so check out those dates down below the artwork and full album-tracklisting; there should be a good chance she will be playing somewhere near you. If not, you’re not searching hard enough. As the famous quote doesn’t go, “Here’s looking for you, (comeback) kid.”

The Kid by Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith

The Kid tracklisting:

01. I Am a Thought
02. An Intention
03. A Kid
04. In the World
05. I Am Consumed
06. In the World, But Not of the World
07. I Am Learning
08. To Follow and Lead
09. Until I Remember
10. Who I Am and Why I Am Where I Am
11. I Am Curious, I Care
12. I Will Make Room for You
13. To Feel Your Best

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith live dates:

08.16.17 – Stockholm, Sweden – Fasching
08.17.17 – St. Malo, France – Le Fort Saint-Père
10.13.17 – Miami, FL – III Points Festival
10.15.17 – Joshua Tree, CA – The Institute of Mentalphysics, Desert Daze
10.17.17 – San Francisco, CA – Swedish American Music Hall
10.19.17 – Portland, OR – Doug Fir
10.21.17 – Vancouver, BC – Venue
10.22.17 – Seattle, WA – Barboza
10.26.17 – Chicago, IL – Schubas
10.28.17 – Montréal, QC – Bar Le Ritz
11.01.17 – Boston, MA – Café 939
11.02.17 – New York, NY – Good Room
11.03.17 – Philadelphia, PA – PhilaMOCA
11.04.17 – Washington, DC – DC9
11.20.17 – Berlin, Germany – Funkhaus
11.21.17 – London, England – Scala
11.22.17 – Amsterdam, Netherlands – Melweg

Premiere: Art Feynman – “Can’t Stand It”

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We covered Art Feynman’s new single “Feeling Good About Feeling Good” back in May. We knew it was good. What we didn’t know — Or maybe we did, and didn’t tell you? Who can say? — was that Mr. Art Feynman is none other than Luke Temple, the prolific psych-pop recording artist behind Here We Go Magic. Temple was a fixture in my junior year dorm room bong sessions in college. There was something beautifully mysterious and vast in his 2008 debut as Here We Go Magic. At the same time, its songs felt approachable, familiar, comfortable. A few albums later, while the music remained tasteful and workmanlike (“Collector” is still a fuckin’ grade-A jam), the mystery had vanished.

I imagine Luke Temple’s return journey toward that beautiful and mysterious vastness brought him to his latest project as Art Feynman. Blast Off Through The Wicker, due out this Friday, is a return to the sonic adventurousness and vague afro-leanings of Here We Go Magic’s debut. Temple recorded the new album himself after decamping from the East Coast to Point Reyes, a small city in Mendocino County, CA, and there’s a warmth here that can’t be faked. Throughout, Temple reveals himself to be a capable filter for his influences, from the Soundway Records guitar tones to the dub bass lines that characterize the record’s sound. Yet the whole thing is still unmistakably him.

“Can’t Stand It” is reflective of the record’s mega-chill yet uptempo vibe, and though it surprises me to say that it sounds like a Jessy Lanza song recorded by Group Bombino, sung by a regular dude with a reedy voice, and produced by Lee “Scratch” Perry, that’s what it sounds like. Even with the reedy regular dude at point guard and Lanza’s terrible post play, I’d take that team over any NBA superteam, including Golden State and the 95-96 Bulls. In other words, it’s a good song.

Tiny Mix Tapes is happy to premiere “Can’t Stand It” in advance of Blast Off Through The Wicker, available for pre-order here and out July 14 on Western Vinyl. Check below the embed for dates from his tour with Lætitia Sadier from Stereolab.

Tour with Lætitia Sadier (Stereolab):

08.04.17 – Jersey City, NJ – Monty Hall
08.05.17 – Philadelphia, PA – Johnny Brenda’s
08.06.17 – Washington, DC – DC9
08.08.17 – Carrboro, NC – Cat’s Cradle
08.09.17 – Asheville, NC – The Mothlight
08.10.17 – Nashville, TN – Third Man Records
08.11.17 – Athens, GA – Georgia Theatre
08.12.17 – Orlando, FL – Will’s Pub