by Matthew Hirsch (@pocketsssssss)
Brooklyn-based quintet Ava Luna have, at this point, enjoyed a career that spans over a decade, quietly but steadily building on their singularly frenetic synth-funk aesthetic. This longevity is not only a testament to the group’s talent, but also to their willingness to adapt and alter their already uncommon approach. Their latest effort, the EP Pigments, builds on the expertly structured songs from 2018’s Moon 2 -- this time with a more optimistic outlook complemented by brighter tones and textures.
Pigments opens stunningly with “Take It Or Leave It,” a song that begins sparsely with just drums, a synth bass line, and Felicia Douglass’ confident voice. Shortly after this -- in classic Ava Luna fashion -- Rebecca Kauffman and Carlos Hernandez join in on the singing, making the listener feel as if they are in the middle of a Williamsburg café full of people talking over one another. The only true difference is that every single customer in this café somehow has a lovely voice. When the chorus arrives, Douglass’ is again the central voice as she sings over a variety of twinkling synths and a driving bassline that display the band’s bonafide pop sensibilities that contrast and balance their more avant-garde tendencies. In total, the song clocks in at barely two minutes, which is astonishing considering how much the band accomplishes in this time without the song feeling oversaturated or cluttered.
The other tracks on Pigments largely follow in the same vein. Only “Weight Of Your Life” reaches just over the three-minute mark but similarly moves through a number of phases ranging from minimalist to satisfyingly saturated before its conclusion. The title track “Pigments” masquerades as a hypnotic jam -- something one could potentially put on in the background while getting work done -- until after the chorus when a distorted synth crashes in from outer space like a malfunctioning rocket. While sometimes jarring, this blending of the serene with the severe is one of the band’s primary strengths; it sets them apart and lends an intriguing and eerie gloom to their music. Pigments concludes with “Trust In You,” a beautifully messy mix of pitch-shifted vocals, a somewhat hectic drum break, synths (of course), and, again, Douglass’ lovely voice which simultaneously cuts through the clutter and holds it all together.
In a 2014 interview with Impose Magazine, band member Carlos Hernandez stated, “‘Wherever we go, we’re the assholes,” when explaining his feeling that Ava Luna’s music was too avant-garde for the more traditional indie scene and too traditional for the more avant-garde noise scene. While I am unsure if this makes them assholes, I am almost certain that it is one of the band’s strengths. Ava Luna have always been hard to define and, while this may not lend itself to windfall profits, it is part of what makes their sound so alluring and has sustained them on an already longer-than-average musical career. Overall, Pigments is a welcome and easily-digestible addition to their impressive discography and, perhaps, a sign of promising things on the horizon.