Acoustic, folk, psychedelic and jazz sensibilities all abound in this delightful and warm, quite charming EP from JJ Slater.
Traditional pop progressions rub shoulders with more esoteric ones and the whole thing is a delight from start to finish. Throughout, our feathers don’t get too ruffled – all the edge is in the timing and the performance (until we also slowly realise there are some barbs to some of the lyrics), and the confidence and ability distilled in the performances are hooks indeed, and addictive.
We kick off with Rupi, which features full-throated twangs on an acoustic, while the lead vocal glides nimbly atop the mix, never trying too hard and cloaked in a reverb that sounds like it might have a touch of guitar pedal on it, too. Finger snaps and tambourine and ethnic percussion form the backbone while a walking bassline on upright solidly underpins jazzier moments. There are some delicious little touches of production that add a lo-fi cool to the flavour. And pads that sound like a keyboard blended with human humming lend more warmth to an already-organic mix. As if all that weren’t enough, we get a Gaelic speed-up finish!
An Obscure Moon For an Obscure World is up next. It lends a part of its name to the EP’s. Featuring beautifully crunchy and scratchy capture of keyboard flavours and ethnic stringed instruments plucking away on exotic arpeggios, there’s a fabulous chord progression that roots everything quite majestically. I’m put in mind of Scott Matthews’ work on his Passing Stranger album. This is a very different artist, of course, but the spirit feels similar, even if the capture and the production is not.
The track builds and builds and a few more production tricks are taken out of their box and exercised as we culminate in a lot of hiss, an abrupt ending and a rainstick! Throughout, the vocal remains unfussy and focussed, communicating very effectively.
All My Ashes has the distinction of freeing up the lead vocal a bit more. There are vocal cracks and a finely-honed sense of playfulness, soul and blues inflections. The warmth and plod of the bass and the enrobing keyboards and guitars lead this hypnotic, pulsing hug of a song. Featuring a fabulous and hypnotic sing-along of a chorus, All My Ashes is a fine central statement, concluding on a swell of organ that underlines the humanity of what’s on offer here.
We get a very different flavour on Daedalus. More stripped down. ‘I’ve got to fly out of this valley’, states the lyric. Well, Icarus’ father might be able to do just that as he notably did not fly too close to the sun! We get more organic warmth, more organ, and more upright bass. Nice. Jude! That’s who the vocals remind me of, he of King of Yesterday fame. Finally got there.
Daedalus concludes in a proper jazz brass workout. It’s extremely impressive and yet another flavour string to JJ Slater’s bow. At about 4 minutes in, we get a squirt of saxophone which leads to all New Orleans’ manner of brass shenanigans. Deliciously anarchic and totally unexpected. Great!
We conclude with a remix and re-imagining of An Obscure Moon For an Obscure World, courtesy of Colin Jalbert. Time-stretched instruments are backed up by a harsh set of 808 decisions and 80’s keyboard voices, which create a very different skeleton for the song to hang from. I’m not sure which version I prefer! The atmosphere they generate is very different. What has previously been very organic is now shackled to a mechanical sensibility. Then a flute-like synth flies in that calls to mind Prince’s Around the World In A Day! Then heavily-treated piano, panned very hard to one side, and then it concludes! Amazing! Didn’t see any of that coming!
The An Obscure Moon EP hangs together beautifully as an artistic statement. The through line in terms of writing, production, vocals and sensibility is tremendously homogenous, in the best sense. Very human and organic, in the way that a gardener will always have soil under their nails, JJ Slater sing and play with conviction and heart, with vision and with direction, and get under your skin. Impossible to resist.