Sholi is a strange kettle of fish. On the one hand, the Californians’ music is psychedelic, eclectic, eccentric and experimental; on the other it’s melodic, graceful and catchy. The combination makes for a superb debut, packed with a vintage sound dripping with the best titbits from every decade in the last 50 years.
The first thing you notice is the amazing percussion from Jonathon Bafus, especially in opener All That We Can See. It’s uncommon to start an album with such a cascade of jazzy drumming, like tins of nuts and bolts being thrown down the stairs, but it sets the scene for something wonderful – something that immediately breaks the boundaries. The Deerhoof fans out there will recognise the influence and the clear, precise and magical production is no surprise when you realise Greg Saunier is at the reigns.
When the vocals hit you in that first track – sweet, repetitive and harmonised before the percussion drifts away – it creates a contrast that makes you sit up and take notice. Luckily, the rest of the song holds its own with a pretty alt-folk melody and production veined with oddness.
This originality falls away a little in tracks like the guitar heavy Tourniquet and November into June, which could be album tracks from any of today’s more underground indie groups. They’re by no means bad, but after an introduction laced with such wildness and weirdness, you expect more.
More is definitely what you get throughout the rest of this album. Spy In The House Of Memories is eerie like a ghostly pirate ship and reminiscent of old Simian (who went on to form the less eccentric Simian Mobile Disco and plain rubbish Black Ghosts). It builds and drops on the waves of a stormy black sea, finishing with a tone of Jeff Buckley as if he were in a drug haze in ’68.
The pace picks up again in Any Other God with a rockier and more mainstream sound, but still showing off the soft and versatile voice of Payam Bavafa. As soon as you think the indie chart has arrived, it’s whisked away again with Dance For Hours. Like Deerhoof, it brings together a million different sounds and genres, yet still remains as focused as a bomb disposal expert. Percussion that jumps from Dean Martin to free jazz, Iron Maiden guitar riffs, early Pink Floyd melody with a Soft Machine twist towards the end – it’s like a freak show you can’t tear your eyes away from.
Bavafa has his best moment to shine in closer Contortionist, which is more than pleasant, although a little subdued and unoriginal compared to the rest of this debut. But more than half of this album is mind-blowing, so it would be nice to leave Sholi with a brain buzzing with that same intrigue, confusion and happiness.