I listen to music for most of every day, every week, and I can say without hesitation that the majority of music released today shouldn’t be. Though professional and competently played, it’s so generic—so lacking in passion or purpose—that I don’t know how the musicians involved can imagine that anyone would bother to engage with it. It’s not that I’m too jaded to hear value in anything anymore—rather, I’ve learned how much genuinely interesting new music is being made, and I don’t want to waste my too-scarce hours on anything else. Most of the time I can make clear distinctions between what I love, what I hate, and what I think is merely serviceable, but once in a great while an artist defies even that most basic kind of categorization. Oakland’s Once & Future Band have been tying my brain in knots since last fall, when I first heard their self-titled 2017 debut—released, like the new four-track EP Brain, via the Castle Face label run by John Dwyer of Oh Sees.
The band’s three members, all alumni of Howlin’ Rain, are fantastic players. Eli Eckert and singer Joel Robinow juggle keyboards, guitars, and bass, while Raj Ojha sticks with drums. (They tour with an additional guitarist, Raze Regal.) They have a knack for crafting fizzy, complex pop melodies, and Ojha, who engineered and mixed both records, is a terrific producer. But as much as I enjoy the band’s hooks, their breathlessly ambitious arrangements and insanely wending multipartite compositions drive me nuts. The melodies make me think of Badfinger or Steely Dan, depending on the song, while the overactive playing evokes Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd, or even treacly 80s jazz-rock fusion—it’s enough to make my skin itch. Sometimes I can’t help but picture Eckert or Robinow strapping on a keytar and getting lost in a ridiculously noodly unison line.
With Once & Future Band, I’ve flipped between admiration and contempt a dozen times so far—for every tune that sucks me in, there’s an overcaffeinated flourish that makes me retch. I can’t tell to what extent they sincerely appreciate what I consider some of the most reprehensible music ever waxed, but given that Phil Manley of Trans Am contributes an overwrought guitar solo to the title track of the new EP, I’d be willing to bet it’s all unironic (however inconceivable that seems to me). Below you can check out “I’ll Be Fine,” a seriously catchy tune from the 2017 album whose drum fills invariably throw me off balance. Once & Future Band play a sold-out show at Thalia Hall tomorrow evening, opening for As the Crow Flies—aka Black Crowes singer Chris Robinson celebrating his own legacy surrounded by former bandmates and ringers.
Janusz Muniak Quintet, Question Mark (Polskie Nagrania)
Janus, Book of Memory (New Focus)
Sten Sandell & Paal Nilssen-Love, Jacana (Rune Grammofon)
Mieczysław Kosz, Reminiscence (Polskie Nagrania)
Martino Traversa, Critical Path (Die Schachtel)