Almost any Asthmatic Kitty release would serve as a grim reminder of the more than four-year absence of Sufjan Stevens, but most of the label’s acts tend to overcome it (just look at My Brightest Diamond). Stevens in an indie icon, to be sure, overshadowing every other act on the Holland, Mich., label (which has since moved to Wyoming), but there are some truly incredible acts to be found under that shadow. Take for instance, I Heart Lung. The experimental jazz duo of guitarist Chris Schlarb and drummer Tom Steck make up the two organ team from Los Angeles, and Interoceans is the name of their latest group of droning, meditative and free-form jazz tracks that more than slightly resemble the album’s title.
Interoceans is a 44 minute album split into four epic chapters. Each carries the title with an attached Roman numeral, with a slightly more descriptive parenthetical name. “Interoceans I (Upwelling)” kicks off the aquatically themed odyssey with Schlarb and Steck’s instruments perfectly inducing mental images of waves rolling, crashing, cresting, falling and undulating against an empty shoreline. It is both relaxing and jarring, peaceful and terrifying. The opening drum rolls and then aggressive guitar chords set one ill at ease, but then the noise and fear subside, like one attempting to escape the stresses and mania of everyday life by visiting the beach. Slowly, the background noise vanishes, and one is made aware of nature. Sounds of birds, lapping waves and the ambient noises of nighttime insects lull the listener into a state of utter relaxation. That’s when they hit you again with the intensity of percussion and the droning of the electric guitar. It’s astounding.
Trumpeter Kris Tiner and multi-instrumentalist Nels Cline appear in the second chapter of Interoceans, also called “Overturning.” This second track seems much more rooted in the feel of experimental jazz. Frenetic, random and somewhat disjointed, yet all coming together in some kind of cacophonous groove, “Overturning” seems to find the listener torn between the surface world and the underwater, seeing chaos in both, but feeling a need to make a choice. That choice seems to be made in the third movement, “Undercurrent,” where we find ourselves in less abrasive territory, the music not so much coming at us from all sides and invading than wrapping around us and enveloping. It more than gives the feel of being underwater. The drums are muffled as our ears might be under the sea. The pace is slower, as our movements would be, and the sounds are simply more…fluid.
The album is wrapped up with the final movement, dubbed “Outspreading,” the most electronically `noodled’ track on the album. Beeps, clicks and chirps all give way to crisp percussion and razor sharp guitar notes. It is at once primal and deliberate. Now we are not simply in the shallows, experiencing the world under small amounts of water. Now we are traveling far and wide and deep into the ocean. We are becoming hyperaware of our surroundings, and we can swim like all get out. Hell, we might have even grown gills.
I can see why I Heart Lung would be included in a documentary beside HEALTH, Abe Vigoda and No Age. Their music might not sound like that of each other, but they are all the true innovators of the L.A. music scene. In fact, the music of I Heart Lung can be interpreted in so many ways that Asthmatic Kitty posted remixes of Interoceans tracks by electronic, ambient and hip-hop artists. Just as the above bands blurred the lines between genres, so too does I Heart Lung. Jazz, rock, post-rock, ambient, avant-garde, or other, it doesn’t really seem to matter. Though it took the duo three years to record this album, there seems to be very little in the way of premeditated manipulation. In other words, you don’t get `the pop song’ or `the rock song.’ Instead, you get a four-part composition that will leave you breathless, not only because it immerses you in the depths.
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Brian Eno- Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks
Eluvium- Talk Amongst the Trees