The reclamation of all the elements of 80′s music that dated it must be nearly complete. Drum machines were only out for about half a decade, synths are more recently revived (and thriving), and there were some awesome pan flutes on that Odawas album from a few years back. The saxophone, perhaps the 80′s instrument with the strongest negative associations, has been showing up in its sultry and squeaky smooth jazz form increasingly over the last few years, with David Sanborn guesting on a Ween track and Destroyer building a whole album around the light vibe. Julian Lynch gets in on the action on his new album Terra, anointing the proceedings with a luxurious wide-angle sax line drizzled over a vibrating chord and simmering hi-hat. It’s a pleasant but dubious opening; I’m not sure I could take another Kaputt.
Thankfully, Lynch knows what the sound is good for – an introductory fanfare bitten with nostalgia – and doesn’t beat it to death. He brings the sax back out later for some more smoothness, but has it converse with a keyboard and clarinet on “Ground”, and even blowing a little dixie on “Canopy”. But while the sax does provide the first focal point for the listener, it is skillfully woven in to a larger esthetic, and this isn’t a nostalgia piece. Lynch has been described as a laid-back, front porch sort of artist, but that doesn’t really ring true here. Certainly his music is relaxed, but instead of fitting the communal associations of a porch session, it inhabits an internal space, dreamy in the way dreams are vivid but off-kilter.
Terra is bookended by a couple of first-rate strummers: “Terra” with its sunny chords, noodling bass, and pastoral harmonica, and “Back” with it’s up and down chord progression and slow build into a sunblinding synth panorama. In between, Lynch spends his time warping these more straightforward idioms into a strange landscape – the terra of the title – filled with hills and valleys and nooks and crannies. By elongating chords, dropping bass in dublike splotches, and picking out patterns ripe for syncopation he keeps things limber even as they are relaxed. The key here is the drums, which never take on a rockist 4/4, instead pattering by hand, slapping accents on strange beats, and loping in place, making structures amenable to the off-kilter melodics. “Fort Collins” is a breathtaking minimalist piano ballad accentuated by what sounds like a garbage pail lid, “Canopy” clomps along on a repeated guitar pattern and two intermittent bass notes before a blustery clarinet lets loose, and “On Eastern Time” see two figures trading melodic poses and makes room for Lynch’s most upfront vocal, which ranges throughout Terra from sweet tenor to a hammy falsetto. The lyrics fall to the back, but when they peak through, they seem to support the strange, earthiness of the music, with talk of caskets and floorboards in June.
Terra is in no hurry to hook you, but once its charms become evident, it’s hard not to be bewitched. It cleans up all of the more histrionic and clunky aspects of Lynch’s previous work, and conjures a neat little self-contained world. It will likely clear its own little area in your mind, like a seemingly minor but meaningful topographic memory where your mood, the breeze, and your life’s narrative are all just so and coalesce into a moment of sweet transcendence.