FLOAT ON: There’s something unarguably unique about New York sextet Ava Luna. Like the bustling port city it calls home, the band boasts a melting pot of ideas, styles, and modes; it’s pop music but thrown through R&B, soul, funk, post-punk, and jazz filters. In recorded form, the songs are nervous to the point of contention; ideas seem to fight for the spotlight before settling into a toe-tapping groove. As far as comparisons go, 2012’s Ice Level not only placed the band alongside Prince (thanks to frontman Carlos Hernandez’s impassioned falsetto) but also called to mind the herky-jerky qualities of early Dirty Projectors, as well as the soulful synth grooves of Jamie Lidell.
This Tuesday, Ava Luna unveils its sophomore album, Electric Balloon. (They play the Biko Co-op Garage the following night.) Like its predecessor, Balloon is brimming with sonic touchstones, but the overall message is a subtly more focused one. Lead single “Daydream” kicks the whole thing off with a burst of New Wave energy and frenetic electric guitars — a hybridized mix of The Rapture and Remain in Light–era Talking Heads. Later, “PRPL” slowly unfurls over a thumping bass line, with singer Felicia Douglass’s R&B croon gently propelling the arrangement forward. Despite the polarities, Balloon feels strikingly cohesive: a facet that Ava Luna’s members relate in part to the recording style used on this album.
“We were really lucky this time out,” said drummer Julian Fader. “We took all of our gear and stuff and went up to our friend’s family’s house in upstate New York. We set up in the living room, which had this big fireplace, and just played. We didn’t really go in with songs, even — a lot of the album just kind of formed while we were messing around in that house.”
According to Fader and bassist Ethan Bassford, the experience lent itself to calmer, more experiential writing, and, ultimately, a more focused sound. “It’s more focused in that we were less focused,” laughed Fader. “We weren’t under the gun or worrying about time. We could step away from things if we needed to. There was less pressure, which was great for us.”
But while Balloon feels centered, Hernandez refuses to attach a theme to the album, or a specific story to his lyrics, which he feels are best left up for interpretation.
“It’s just fun. It’s just for kicks,” he said of Balloon’s message. “Some of the songs are really sad, they’re personal, and they tell the stories of these really painful moments, but I think it’s handled with a maturity, with the ability to say to someone, ‘Okay, this happened to me,’ and then walk away from the situation a bigger, better person. For me, for the time being, I think it’s just about those small moments.”
Ava Luna plays the Biko Co-op Garage (6612 Sueno Rd., Isla Vista) on Wednesday, March 5, at 7:30 p.m. with openers Krill and Sun Daes. For info, visit sbdiy.org. Electric Balloon comes out March 4 on Western Vinyl.
ALSO THIS WEEK: While we’re speaking on bands of the hybridized and off-kilter variety, we should mention Portland passers-through Sama Dams, who plug in at Warbler Records & Goods on Thursday, February 27, for a free in-store performance at 5 p.m. A blend of math rock and avant pop, their tunes run the gamut from spastic to downright folksy and are sure to serve as a wonderful soundtrack to the return of Warbler’s long-hiatused in-store schedule. Welcome back, friends!
Also this week, S.B. rapper T Fresh headlines a day and night of music at UCSB’s Corwin Pavilion on Saturday, March 1. The 12-hour Dance Marathon kicks off at noon and ends at midnight, and funds raised at the event will be donated from the Children’s Miracle Network at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital. For info and a full lineup of performers, visit dancemarathonucsb.com.