JOYFULTALK returns with its third album for Constellation; another vibrantly divergent stylistic take on the analog materiality and sensibility of electronic composer-producer Jay Crocker, whose previous two records forged trance-inducing polyrhythmic intricacy. Familiar Science rallies contributions from a larger cast of musicians into a looser, cosmic recombinant combo still shot through with JOYFULTALK’s singular mixing desk kinetics, but this time deep-diving into gnarled and twisted, spliced and diced out-jazz. Crocker draws inspiration from 1980s M-Base music and Ornette Coleman’s harmolodic funk period, while his own prior history as an improv guitarist also resurfaces for the first time in many years.
Familiar Science finds Crocker folding time (as lockdown will do), immersed in his present-day kaleidoscope of solitary art and music practices in rural Nova Scotia, while channeling his former life as a bustling jazz collaborator in Calgary, Alberta. Building outwards from roiling resampled acoustic drums, Crocker extracted additional sonic and rhythmic textures, then formed the head of each song using dusted-off archival recordings and his own bass, keys and midi sequencing. Albertan percussionists Eric Hamelin (Ghostkeeper, Chad Vangaalen) and Chris Dadge (Lab Coast, Alvvays) provided improvised drum tracks to be chopped and harvested; Nova Scotia-based Nicola Miller (Ryan Driver, Doug Tielli) laid down resplendent excursions on saxophone and flute; Crocker’s own dexterous guitar appears on several cuts. Familiar Science also poignantly features samples from live recordings by the late Calgary saxophonist iconoclast Dan Meichel, catalysing some of the album’s heaviest contortions.
Crocker weaves all these raw materials into exuberant compositions that blur the line between sizzling corporeal combo and sampledelic futurist jamz, variously conjuring (leftfield) Flying Lotus, (later) Tortoise, BADBADNOTGOOD and Squarepusher’s Music Is Rotted One Note. The rubbery hyper-compression of boom-bap opener “Body Stone” initiates the séance, and the album offers a panoply of skittering grooves and soaring melodic pathways thereafter. Crocker’s own wordless stacked vocals are the giddy secret sauce on several cuts, and his lead guitar work (in kinship with the lean progressions of Mary Halvorson or Jeff Parker) features on “Take It To The Grave”, “Stop Freaking Out!” and the album’s title track. More honeyed passages on songs like “Blissed For A Minute” and “Ballad In 9” center around Miller’s bouyant alto sax and flute.
Familiar Science is a rousing feast of noise-tinged polychrome electronic avant-jazz: richly harmolodic compositions teeming with intersecting textures and turbulences; exploratory, exhilarated and indeed joyful.