Design By Humans
Published On: Fri, Jun 6th, 2014

Ava Luna: Electric Balloon

ava lunaAva Luna
Electric Balloon
(Western Vinyl)

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Calling something R&B is almost meaningless these days. It could be used to describe both Wilson Pickett and Toni Braxton. However it’s the easiest way I can start talking about Ava Luna. Ava Luna are a nice bunch of kids from Brooklyn whose fantastic new album is Electric Balloon. Trying to describe the music they make in one genre is unfair, so I’ll just say R&B. Maybe Indie-R&B.

There seem to be two major musical influences here, funk and soul. The funky tracks are weird and dissonant yet fun and danceable. (Think LCD Soundsystem with a little bit of Gang of Four thrown in.) “Sear Roebuck M&Ms” sounds like a James Brown song from an alternate universe where James Brown was a young woman in the year 2014. The lo-fi production is an asset here. When mixed with minimal instrumentation, it makes the songs sound raw and sweaty, which let’s face it, is the best way to dance. But while Ava Luna the funk band is a pretty good band, Ava Luna the soul band is astonishing.

On Electric Balloon they have a three-point plan for making gorgeous soul music. The first point is simple enough, write really good songs. “PRPL” is stop-you-in-your-tracks beautiful. Many of the songs are incredibly affecting while still being fairly minimal. The arrangements are thoughtful, but never get in the way of the songs. Second, is the element of surprise. Placing “Crown” after the opening two dance-rockers is a brilliant sucker punch. “Plain Speech” begins like a lost LCD Soundsystem side before taking you somewhere you weren’t expecting to go, but you’ll be glad you went. The final and most important is the vocals. Lead singer Carlos Hernandez has an enviable falsetto that brings to mind Jeff Buckley. He may be sick of hearing that comparison, but I doubt it. If that wasn’t enough, there are layers of harmonies on almost every song that truly make them what they are. The art of vocal harmonies used to be a given. Doo-Wop groups or girl groups in the 60’s were based around 3- and 4-part harmonies. Bands like The Beatles and the Beach Boys were expected to do this while playing instruments. These days you mainly hear them on over-produced pop tracks, but seldom anywhere else. This makes Ava Luna stand out, but they also use it well. If you listen to “Genesee,” you may not notice at first that it’s mainly just vocals with a skeletal beat and some bass notes and guitar skronks used mainly as checkpoints. Most people who hear Ava Luna will probably remember them for their vocal harmonies, but if you ask me, the writing and arranging are just as memorable.

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Ava Luna: Electric Balloon