To some, genres may feel restrictive or just too safe. I can’t help but have certain expectations when a band is sold to me as “indie rock” or “folk pop”. Genres are also comfortable and fairly omnipresent. Rocking the boat by ignoring or refuting this paradigm has the chance of seeming precocious or as an act of complete denial. Sure, My Chemical Romance, Ibelieve you’re not really “emo”, but I’m a Kinsella-forged emo prescriptivist; you can’t expect the rest of this nation to shed their preconceived notions about what you become when you wear all black and throw yourself a parade. But I digress. Inventing your own genre? That’s audacious. This is what Ava Luna has done, however, with their self described brand of “Nervous Soul”, and yet the band has made far more audacious decisions in every moment of sophomore album “Electric Balloon”.
What does a band do, then, when they have no predecessors in their self-forged field? Maybe adopt some aesthetics from bands that have pushed their musical envelope into a direction that could fit such an invented tag. Talking Heads, the B-52’s, and James Chance could all be described as either nervous or soulful, I’m sure, and are echoed by Ava Luna in spurts. The vessel for these echoes, I should mention, is a far more concentrated force than in the creation of their previous album. The group has gone from 7 to a trim 5 members, an act that has only furthered the creative chemistry of the songwriting.
Every song here is unique, every turn unexpected. Opening track “Daydream” introduces the listener to the origin of aforementioned nervousness, vocalist Carlos Hernandez, as hemakes his way through a spastic diatribe that would do David Byrne proud. The next song hands off vocal duties to Becca Kauffman, who brings a charmingly spacy groove to “Sears Roebuck M&Ms”. Becca and keyboardist Felicia Douglass go on to create irresistible harmonies throughout standout tracks like “Aquarium” and “Prpl”, with the tight rhythm section of Ethan Bassford and Julian Fader allowing the complex structures of tracks like “Ab Ovo” and “Judy” to thrive. The result is something cohesive in its mood swings, and danceable in a way that simply requests you completely reroute your dancing style every few stanzas. Then again, who couldn’t use more dancing?
“Electric Balloon” was created during week-long “vacations” in which the band would stay together, eat dinner together, and follow dinner with absurd jam sessions. I was going to make a comment that questioned if the band cooked dinner in the same manner that they cooked up songs, but I honestly cannot imagine the fusion cuisine that would result. I am capable, however, of continuing a metaphor, and will do so to summarize my thoughts. ”Electric Balloon” is an eleven course meal with so many flavors that after consuming it you no longer remember what other foods taste like. Ava Luna is willing to pioneer their own genre with such dedication that they’re already beginning to transcend simple designators like “Nervous” and “Soul”, leaving me all the more excited for what they intend to cook up next.