Album Reviews

Ava Luna – Electric Balloon

(Western Vinyl) UK release date: 10 March 2014

Ava Luna - Electric Balloon Chaos. That would be best and most appropriate word to describe the debut album from Brooklyn’s Ava Luna. The band’s heady combination of soul, punk and funk presented something that was both wildly ambitious and, at times, frustratingly restless throughout the running time of Ice Level. Fronted by Carlos Hernandez – who is the songwriter, arranger and producer for Ava Luna – the band were almost too complicated for their own good.

Despite this insatiable desire for eccentricity, which the band have termed “nervous soul”, Ice Level was well received by critics, with many drawing comparisons with fellow New Yorkers Dirty Projectors. However, as admirable as Ava Luna’s jittery, angular funk was on their first record, there were times when it just became too much – leaving the listener crying out for the band to simplify things and give their songs some semblance of direction.

And, as if by magic, that’s exactly what Ava Luna’s second record, Electric Balloon, achieves. While all the quirks and energy from their debut are still present, it is clear from the outset that Electric Balloon is less uptight and unhinged than its predecessor – and that is most certainly a good thing. Opener Daydream is a perfect reminder of what the band are all about, with its jittery, stop-start guitar riff and Hernandez’s dishevelled vocals, yet the competing elements feel less artificial.

In fact, there is a sense that Electric Balloon is the result of a combined band effort, rather than the far more individual experience that produced Ice Level. Take Crown for example, which is arguably one of Ava Luna’s most straightforward compositions. The song features a melodic guitar riff and Hernandez’s falsetto, as he screeches “I need a man”, while the rumbling beat chugs along almost nonchalantly. It’s not only less showy than the band’s previous material, it’s also more compelling.

Another interesting development is the more prominent role of Ava Luna’s female contingent, with both Felicia Fouglass and Becca Kauffman far more influential on Electric Balloon. Kauffman sounds virtually possessed during Sears Roebuck M&Ms, as the jolty riff gives her license to really explore her vocal range, while Fouglass comes into her own on the beautiful, stripped-back ballad PRPL, which particularly stands out due to its relative simplicity compared to the rest of the album.

Plain Speech is another highlight, demonstrating how effective Ava Luna are when they play more loosely with their form and have a bit of fun. The song features an irresistible ‘70s guitar riff that combines seamlessly with a stuttering beat, before it suddenly transforms into a hushed, melodic slice of pop. Then there’s the magnificently nonsensical  title track, where Kauffman once again takes lead vocals, making a range of unique noises over its fractured hook.

Yet, although Electric Balloon develops the potential that was evident from their debut, it does feel like Ava Luna are still a band in transition. The change from a seven-piece to a five-piece has obviously helped the band clean up their sound to an extent, but the experiment is not an unmitigated success. There are moments where the album does get a bit repetitive, while tracks such as Hold You and Genesee are too left field and self-indulgent for their own good.

That said, the streamlining of both the band and their sound was a smart move and it has resulted in Electric Balloon having a cohesion that was missing on Ice Level. Ava Luna’s second album could almost be considered a fresh start for the band – even though it is still bursting with the same anxious energy that graced its predecessor – and while they may not be the finished article just yet, there is enough promise here to suggest an exciting future ahead.

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Ava Luna – Electric Balloon