On the opening track from Gist Is, the debut, self-released album by the Leeds-based foursome Adult Jazz, sounds and colors hang limpid and wary midair. Suspended by one simple chord, one gloriously indefinite drone, “Hum” finally succumbs to the tides in its third minute, relinquishing all the hypertensive strain and expounding toward a startling new paradigm. Six minutes in and elegiac brass lines syncopate the pedantic vocal melodies of Harry Burgess which fill the space as a very emphatic, well-projected whisper. Self-released by the group’s own label Spare Thought (also a lyric fixated upon in “Hum”), the album is sonically provocative and thoroughly arresting in its full-figured, ambitious attempts to subvert indie rock tropes with a vanguard sensibility of (lo and behold) adult-type jazz.
Certain music seems to be specifically produced and arranged to hear while in motion. The rapid momentum that accompanies trains, boats, and other motor vehicles often evokes new, expansive experiences in tandem with the evanescent view outside your window. But there’s a definitive sense of brilliance found within Gist Is, that lends itself to stagnant spaces, wide-open and unmoving landscapes that unfurl and vacillate before your very eyes, accented and contoured with each subsequent track.
The first time I heard this album I was at work in a small, windowless room beaming at the tiny technicolor hues embedded on the carpet floor. The second time, I was seated at the mouth of a curlicued pond in the center of Prospect Park, watching intently as a thick blooming layer of emerald green algae made patient, slivering patterns. Each instance left me similarly motionless and silently enraptured.
There’s a poignant beauty about Adult Jazz’s debut record, the culmination of the group’s efforts over the past four years, that emanates in instances like “Am Gone”’s matching vocal and electric guitar line or Burgess’ sputtering, half-spoken phrases, a brackish, sensual groan as if words cannot begin to explain the philosophical nuances he’s mulling over. The following track “Springful” is buoyant and joyous, unpredictable in its listless, backwards-moving exultance. The slow and timid “Donne Tongue” is an inverted backlash to the preceding song, but it remains just as reckless and spontaneous in form. Each counter-intuitive, atonal blemish carved out on this track is strategically and meticulously placed. It’s a vision of taut, freewheeling pop music that pays homage to Burgess’ musical inspirations like Joanna Newsom but also bears a likeness to the antagonistic, no wave dynamics of Ava Luna.
“Pigeon Skulls” recedes the proliferating energies, now dilapidated, melancholic and emotionally damaged as they are, evoking the kind of still, satisfying sadness that only comes with substantive amounts of self-induced isolation. Haunted and harrowed, one of the most gorgeous, anxiety-afflicted, themes of the year, the record’s lead-single “Spook” features some of the album’s most astounding and articulate one-liners. Verses like “sit back down on me,” “I write these songs to trick God” and “I do not take it lightly,” which would sound as pallid as they read if not for the frontman’s formidably illustrative charism, are carried toward an optimistic yield with beatific brass arrangements and steadily-paced guitar licks. The nearly ten-minute mercurial “Spook” is the record’s crowning jewel, sonorous and spectacular as sparse guitar riffs and light drum fills float up and away like a soft summer breeze.
The album’s most compelling number, “Idiot Mantra,” is an eerie, decrepit dance beat, with sounds and colors more explicable than words or ideas. “Been humming the idiot mantra so long/My heart it is spilling all over the drums,” Burgess repeats as some of the song’s only decipherable lyrics over hacksawed strings and reversed audio fragments. It’s Adult Jazz at their most delicious and demented.
Tracks “Be A Girl” and “Bonedigger,” serve to subtly unwind the propulsive energy on Gist Is. The former sounds like a hackneyed, upended hymnal, jarring in its contented mannerisms and percussive anomalies. The latter is tonally pastoral and passive; the sequestered brass section elicits a calm, exhaustive resolution–one that doesn’t necessarily rectify the madness isolated throughout these transformative 51 minutes. But it certainly works to perpetuate the cycle, to instigate another revolution back to the began, in hopes of finding some newfangled meaning behind all that violent hullabaloo.