On the first couple passes, Ava Luna's Ice Level seems an almost impenetrable mess, charting a dizzying course between the itchy art-funk of the Dismemberment Plan, Tim-and-Aaliyah's future-perfect R&B, Dirty Projectors' forays into slip-sliding harmonics, and a generous helping of funky old soul. But even after you've traced out the many roots of the New York "nervous soul" septet's gnarly genre-bending, you'll find there's simply no telling where they'll take it from one minute to the next. With his band restlessly undulating around him, Ava Luna frontman Carlos Hernandez coos about calculus, coming off a little like The Soulman Who Fell to Earth.
A wide range of artists have hitched their cars onto the end of the soul train in recent years. From more traditional acts such as Sharon Jones and the denizens of the Daptone label to Neo-Soul hybrids such as Jamie Lidell and Mayer Hawthorne, the influence of the genre’s golden era can be heard loud and clear decades later. New York’s Ava Luna land on the more experimental end of the spectrum, showcasing a bizarre yet consistently interesting blend of soul, post-punk, and funk on their first full-length release, Ice Level.
Following a string of EP releases, Ice Level is the claustrophobically elaborate, full-length debut from Brooklyn-based indie cold funk collective Ava Luna. Taking inspiration from the late-'70s Ze Records hybridization of funk and No Wave, or the like-minded freak-disco of 99 Records acts like ESG, the eight songs on Ice Level are all slick, slinky, and wiry numbers. The nervy R&B compositions are fronted by brainchild/N.Y.C.
The marriage of indie rock and neo-R&B was arranged by the Dirty Projectors and their game-changing 2009 record Bitte Orca, but it was consummated by a cover of standout Orca track "Stillness Is the Move" by Solange (sister of Beyoncé) Knowles. With that benchmark safely met, it wasn't long before we began to see bands like Brooklyn's Ava Luna, who play within only the wobbliest of barriers between genres. Those familiar with the Projectors' sound will hone in on the three-part female harmonies that populate Ice Level, combined here with a rhythmic stutter and confident vocals more reminiscent of hip-hop than hipsters.