C/T Review: Ava Luna, Electric Balloon

Albums / Words

20 Mar 14

Circumnavigating the world of ‘genre’ like Richard Branson after a pair of tits, Ava Luna’s second record Electric Balloon feels more like a nicely recorded live set than a cohesive album put out to sell. It’s jump-starty, glamorous and often whimsical of tone (and voice). It’s full of guitar splashes and washed out percussion that combine to make EB sometimes tribal, often funky and even R ‘n’ B smooth. I’m not sure what type of music this is, but whatever the case, Ava Luna’s latest effort is manic: and also manically cohesive.

A bold claim about a band that refuse to obey the rules of any sonic sphere. But Ava Luna aren’t shy. They did, after all, announce on opener ‘Daydream’ that they’ve “never been so put off in all my life” – a brilliant forecast to take with you toward the next eleven tracks.

But where these eleven are oddly idle, put off perhaps, they also sway addictively. A smouldering mix of Chk Chk Chk and, well, perhaps ’06 indie stalwarts Forward, Russia may lead you in the right direction. You don’t so much notice the daft tempo drops and cuts as you do appreciate their intrinsic musicality. ‘Hold U’ is a rocksteady jaunt and a vocal force as well as being lushly sentimental; and ‘Judy’ is the one to see live, the brute of this experimental collection.

Ava Luna’s mix is like a days’ hunt. Sometimes hairy, deathly and tribal; and sometimes reflective and cunningly swatty. Thankfully, like a successful hunt, Electric Balloon brings home a feast.

Describing themselves as ‘nervous soul’, Ava Luna steer clear of the cultivated arrogance which traditionally attends hardcore groove-peddling; their jumpy, Talking Heads-informed rhythms edging out p-funk pomp. ‘Baby, I don’t have the stomach for it’ gasps frontman Carlos Hernandez on ‘Judy’: the journey of this Electric Balloon is more motion-sickness than joyride. In ‘Daydream’ there is queasy corner-turn upon corner-turn, saxes and squeaky door sound effects perforating the album’s punk vibe.

These quasi-shambolic moments ensure the art-poppers’ geek-chic gets as good an airing as their Brooklynite chutzpah. Violent, mathy and full of SFX, ‘Plain Speech’, wears its heart on its Star Wars t-shirt sleeve. ‘Genesee’, the penultimate track, sounds like a badly-buffered drum loop of that bygone tune ‘Umbrella’ by Rihanna. It’s refreshing to see modern R&B get a good satirising, though to call this a revenge of the nerds would be to suggest nerds aren’t cool, or that they weren’t there in the old school. Prince homage ‘Hold U’ reminds you how odd was the Purple One; the dead-slow soul of ‘PRPL’ is pure vocal seduction from Felicia Douglass. ‘Sear Roebuck M&Ms’ is the sweetest of the bunch, its assertive deep funk well marshalled by tight low-end from Ethan Bassford. Bass by name and bass by nature – an input honest and uninhibited, typical of the group.

A sparky, scratching guitar heralds the arrival of Ava Luna’s second major release on opening track ‘Daydream’. It’s all tight, bouncing beats and addictive vocal hooks, until a saxophonist on Red Bull arrives like a sonic elephant, careening around the recording studio smashing everything up. It’s succinct, punchy and huge fun: the first tease of a box of surprises that Electric Balloon flings open.

The record sees Carlos Hernandez and his quintet straddling the fences between funk, punk and pop or, more accurately, building underground tunnels between the three and running around down there chucking sounds about. Results like the wall to wall guitar crashing on ‘Judy’ prove they’ve been very industrious miners.

This stupendously subtle underground metaphor also points to the darkness that lurks around the edges of the music. Funky slow jam ‘Sear Roebuck M&Ms’ grooves along, but a building background buzz adds an itch of anxiety and suddenly the track crashes to an end with a screeching, unsettling moan. ‘Aquarium’ disorientates with a rapid bongo beat underneath a plodding acoustic guitar, a cool face betrayed by a panicked heartbeat. Hernandez pleads “please don’t hurt my baby” and it’s hard to know how to feel -the album’s sinister edge ensures the listener stays on their toes.

When Hernandez and his female companions blend their voices the record soars, as on ‘Plain Speech’ or the Prince-esque ‘Hold U’, featuring an assured drizzling of falsetto. Perhaps the harmonising is especially appealing in contrast to the screaming and moaning that buffets other parts of Electric Balloon. This isn’t a complaint, rather a nod to Ava Luna’s refusal to pick a genre or a comfort zone, which is compelling to hear.

Check out the video for Ava Luna's 'Daydream' below and let us know what you think of Electric Balloon on Twitter