Izvrstan hipstersko-modernistički pop.
Self-recorded and produced over the course of their four-year education at university in Leeds, Gist Is is the product of four friends who hope to revive the unified aesthetic its musical parents penned in the early- to mid-2000s, namely Grizzly Bear’s Yellow House, Joanna Newsom’s Ys and Björk’s Vespertine. The back-to-back setup of long-form orchestral, pitch-shifting songs doesn’t make the record prone for Billboard pop charts. Its intuitive flow and dream-like wavering, however, make it easy to absorb.
Things kick off with the slow eight-minute opener “Hum,” sounding not too far off from the now-classic woodsy ringing and wistful horns of Justin Vernon. It immediately warns listeners; if you’re looking for simple pop, this isn’t it. You have to be patient if you want to see the bigger route that is Gist Is. “Spook” asks listeners to do the same. Its dark start blooms into a flutter of free association and throat grooves, pulling in group chants and free-form singing that’s as easy to learn as those in Akron/Family’s jovial “Ed Is A Portal.”
Much of the album seems to flirt with the Dirty Projectors’ unsettling structure. “Be A Girl” has the baroque twists of The Glad Fact, and the finger-picked guitar and rhythmic drumming on closer “Bonedigger” sounds like a forgotten half of “Temecula Sunrise.” By far the most Dirty Projectors-esque track is “Donne Tongue,” flaunting freak-folk jazzed guitar and off-key plodding that comes full circle with a passionate flailing, easily making it the album’s best track.
Burgess claims the sound as their own by threading it all together with his distinct vocals. Unhinged melodies fit comfortably beside traditional scat, especially during the atonal downwards spiral of his voice in “Idiot Mantra.” Indulgence in expression, as Burgess coined it in our recent interview, is never too rich to consume.
This year has once again seen pop stars clawing for the top, but Adult Jazz is meditatively inching its way up the ranks with its own version of the genre. Considering the four men are rather young, their adolescence does leave a part of the album feeling unfinished, but it also leaves the impressive marks of someone who has exceeded the limits of his age. Seeing a band carry on the complexities of long-form songs, especially when giving their entire selves up to the process while they’re at it, is the boldest a debut can be. If they change dramatically on a future release, we won’t even be upset. That unpredictability is what makes Adult Jazz’s music so enlightening. - Nina Corcoran
Some bands lack a real awareness of how to use space; far too many artists want to fill any gaps with music, be it layering up the instrumentation, using a well-worn chord progression or simply continuing to sing/emote when there’s absolutely no need. It means there’s nowhere for the initial sketches to move into and grow. Adult Jazz does not do any of this.
The Leeds four-piece made up of Harry Burgess, Tom Howe, Tim Slater and Steve Wells don’t make what you might class as “easy” music; what debut album Gist Is is made up of is a series of expansive pieces that allow you to explore the world of Adult Jazz; it’s a world that’s hard to classify, but try to imagine if Wild Beasts went a bit prog-jazz and you’re getting somewhere kind of close. The songs on this album seem to start at a small point in an undefined centre before pulsing outwards in all directions, changing form and structure as they go – in that respect, it’s almost impossible to describe what this music sounds like, or how it might make you feel.
While there’s a structure of sorts to Gist Is, there’s a real improvisational feel to the album from the moment an organ buzz comes out of the silence on opening track “Hum” and Burgess’ falsetto floats up and down the register, being pitch bent alongside the singer’s own flights of fancy. From then on the space is explored in a way that recalls, to me, a folk musician like John Martyn would. The organ, errr, hum remains the focus of the piece despite Burgess’ vocal gymnastics and the loose drumming that kicks in around halfway through the track: like Martyn hitting his guitar between strums, the percussion finds the spaces between the existing instrumentation to ensure nothing becomes overcrowded or unnecessarily layered. The same trick is pulled on “Am Gone”, a track that swings jazzily, like a playful Talk Talk; the bass and slide guitar slip between the scattered drumming and Burgess’ scat singing. It’s uncomplicated and carries a real sense of fun, something that’s often absent in music with this amount of ambition.
The airy “Springful” is perhaps the best example of Adult Jazz’s space management: in a rush to make a statement record, many bands tend to overload but here the quartet find depth and ingenuity through a simple vocal, free drumming and a clarinet dipping in and out of the mix. There’s also room for chiming guitar, but that simply replaces the clarinet and follows the path that instrument was taking; all the guitar does is change the mood, making the track instantly more mournful before exploding in bursts of colour when it’s joined by some glitches of electronic. Pushing out in all directions, and all moods as well it seems.
There’s a delightful coolness to “Donne Tongue” and “Pigeon Skills” (these song titles!) that makes Gist Is feel like a summer record, recalling the way in Joni Mitchell combines folk and jazz – she’s an artist made for the summer, and Adult Jazz have that same lightness of touch that suits endlessly hazy days. When we finally reach epic nine-minute single “Spook” it feels like a culmination of sorts; it doesn’t feel like a long song simply due to the variety of routes the track takes during the running time: startingwith subdued piano and ambient hums, we go through trembling guitar and powerful brass and percussion, while Burgess sings “Spook at the door / I spoke with a whisper” with an eeriness that casts him as a central character in an MR James story. It’s everything you need to know about Adult Jazz in one song – their mission statement, if you will. There’s only one real misstep and that’s when the band try to pack too much into “Be A Girl” but they recover this immediately with the sprightly closer “Bonedigger”, which features some incredible finger-picked guitar and wonderfully muted brass, but once again arranged in a way that you don’t know where the track might head.
Gist Is shows a lightness of touch that’s few and far between on debut records. You get the feeling that the next Adult Jazz record might be entirely different given how unpredictable this one is…but for now, here, this is an album without boundaries – lose yourself in it. - Andrew Hannah
Dirty Projectors’ Bitte Orca is probably where it all began. That’s when it became common for pop music to unashamedly foreground technical ability. Since then, we’ve gotten more and more records which dazzle and bludgeon with impossible intricacies, setting into motion a trend which has intensified to a point where Owen Pallett can write essays turning the most seemingly banal pop songs into the subjects of serious study.
In Leeds – with the University of Leeds’ especially high achieving school of music – the local scene embraced this shift in zeitgeist with open arms, and Adult Jazz are possibly the strongest example of going for it with both hands. And this is no playful mayhem in the style of St. Vincent or Tune Yards. Gist Is is a long, knotty album, with nine songs taking nearly an hour to puzzle themselves out. It’s serious and even churchly in places, and there’s little attempt to make sure the listener follows Adult Jazz down their musical rabbit holes of jazz, hip hop and folk-tronica.
Opening track ‘Hum’ is a seven-minute landscape of drone and filtered vocals, taking a full four minutes or so before any form of percussion usurps the song’s titular noise. It is minutes more until the release of rasping brass and something approaching a choral refrain (a simple "uh-oh-oh") helps to drive the thing to its conclusion. The nine-minute centrepiece ‘Spook’ leaves even less connective thread between its ideas, making you feel that you should be leaving a trail of breadcrumbs to find your way back out from its build of loose grooves and tidy guitar runs.
But the intricacies of the pieces, along with the expert blending of their influences, make Gist Is a compelling hour of music. The unassuming showiness of the musicianship makes the impact all the stronger when its details catch your ear unawares – astonishing guitar licks battling against contorted time signatures, floating to the surface for just a bar or two before falling back into the arrangements.
For those who find putting proficiency on a pedestal to be stuffy and joyless, Gist Is won’t cause any conversions. It’s an unapologetically impressive and precise record that could do more to reach out and connect, rather than just dancing off, expecting the listener to follow. Hints of untapped vocal expression in ‘Donne Tongue’ and the recurring motifs of ‘Springful’ offer some fleeting footholds of familiarity, but more often than not, Adult Jazz leave you to unpack their efforts for yourself. It’s not an immediate album, but it is an absorbing one, rewarding close and repeated listens. - Russell Warfield
In the early-to-mid 2000s, unconventional, long-form song structures became something of a trend in North American indie rock, which created resonances with the flashy, epic-poetic progressive rock of the 1970s. The music of Leeds-based quartet Adult Jazz recalls this (now somewhat unfashionable) approach; their debut album, Gist Is, is full of formally convoluted songs which seldom run shy of five minutes, and feature plenty of brisk, ponderous guitar figures and difficult-to-parse drumbeats. However, the album’s complexity is the brushwork rather than the subject described; a gentle flow of melismatic, often beautiful melody takes center stage and provides the band's compositions with a necessary unifying element.
It’s often easy to discern Adult Jazz's base of contemporary influences. Opener "Hum", with its blue-eyed soul aspirations and vocal processing, recalls Bon Iver's most recent album, while the histrionic vocalizations on more angular and dissonant tracks ("Donne Tongue", "Be A Girl") invites comparisons to like-minded British iconoclasts Wild Beasts. However, the band eventually refract and re-contextualize even their most familiar-sounding gestures, leaving room to showcase plenty of their own signature tics. Lead singer Harry Burgess usually doubles or extends his meandering, plainchant-like vocal melodies on guitar rather than providing them with chordal support (on "Am Gone," the technique closely resembles the signature scat-alongs of adult-contemporary jazz favorite George Benson). Meanwhile, the sporadic, acerbic percussion remains affectively detached from the slickness of the rest of the ensemble, and compellingly dense.
There are also jarring interjections from sampled, electro-or-acoustic reeds, horns, strings, harp and vocals—their processed quality sometimes evokes the pitch-shifted trumpet work of Eno/David Sylvian collaborator and avant-New Ager Jon Hassell. However, these gestures provide mere coloration; the base arrangement is always skeletal. Frequently, there are passages of just two or three instruments playing at once, and the full force of the entire ensemble is used sparingly. This allows Adult Jazz to maintain powerfully restrained dynamics when desired, as on the muted “Pigeon Skulls,” which mixes deft, Richard Thompson-esque acoustic guitar picking with disconnected wisps of vocal melody.
For the most part, Adult Jazz avoid the typical gambits of the post-Funeral Indie Rock Song; songs end abruptly, like their allotted time is up, without heavy-handed catharsis or blaring, tacked-on codas. The one exception to this is ten-minute album centerpiece “Spook”, which closes with an extended section attempting unsuccessfully to deliver some tom-heavy, Peter Gabriel-esque gravitas. The song’s three or four movements mix somewhat pat chord structures with nondescript vocal licks, and ultimately the track comes across like a jambalaya of undeveloped sketches—juxtaposed without meaningful connective tissue.
Another element of Gist Is that may be initially difficult to stomach is its lyrics, which read something like a collection of Gertrude Stein poems (“Bold claim to taste a feel in felt/ To ham it up, the heart’s a sore/ For babies sake and nothing more”). Sentences sometimes go unfinished, devolving into nonsense and half-words. However, the gibberish often proves to be just as expressive as the cogent language: colorful, motormouth ululations represent Burgess’ addressee “going on and on” in “Am Gone,” and the vocal tracks on “Idiot Mantra” are cleverly scrambled, reversed, or crudely cut off mid-phrase to evoke its eponymous sound. One of Burgess’ discernible themes is the fundamental difficulty and ineffectuality of communication (“It’s all in aphorisms/ I was just believing myself slowly/ And the feeling changed”), so when the band engages in this type of onomatopoeia and word painting, it seems appropriate and makes for some of the album’s most memorable moments.
Ultimately, the primary appeal of Adult Jazz’s music is in its unique and playful syntax, which is neither indulgently collage-like or remotely predictable. Their sound is not revolutionary, but nonetheless wholly distinctive—and nowadays, this seems a hard bargain for any rock band to strike. Gist Is is full of clever turns of musical and lyrical phrase which will dispel possible accusations of self-indulgence and pretension, and somehow, within just a few listens, it becomes easy to enjoy this unusually paced album of so few easy hooks, and so many seemingly insignificant words. -
Am Gone / Springful (2014)