Something Different: Cliff Hines – “Wanderlust”


Cliff Hines - "Wanderlust"This music is kaleidoscopic.  This music has a myriad of influences, each showing brief flashes before disappearing back into a perpetually shifting cycle of pattern and form.  Wanderlust, the new recording by Cliff Hines is to hear glimpses of source material without it ever truly coalescing for long enough to grab hold.  In many ways, it’s this music’s formlessness that is its most appealing characteristic.

Often when an artist attempts to fuse together disparate sounds or influences (assuming they do it well, which is no guarantee), the resulting hybrid is a singular sound all to its own.  It’s one of the most exciting traits of following artists who defy conventions and genres.  It’s a big reason why I run the Something Different review series.

The thing I find so damn compelling about this album is that it doesn’t really create a singular sound, even though Hines’s ensemble does an astoundingly adept job of blending the various music influences.  Just as a thick fog has a definitive presence yet remains forever elusive, the music of Wanderlust shimmers and floats and just can’t get nailed down.

Your album personnel:  Cliff Hines (guitar, vocals, synthesizers, guitar effects), Sasha Masakowski (vocals), Paul Thibodeaux (drums, percussion), Jasen Weaver (acoustic & electric bass), and Andrew McGowan (piano, Rhodes), and guests:  Khris Royal (alto sax), Sam Craft (violin), Jack Craft (cello), Sebastian Figueroa (Line 6 DL4), Rex Gregory (bass clarinet), Ashlin Parker (trumpet), Michael Watson (trombone), Simon Lott II (drum effects), Chris Carter (drum programming), Helen Gillet (cello), Bill Summers (percussion), Kent Jordan (flute), James Singleton (bass), Rex Gregory (bass clarinet, soprano sax), Lloyd Dillon (spoken word), Dave Easley (slide guitar), and Andrew McLean (tabla).

While there are some moments that can legitimately be called Jazz, this album more often echoes the genre-shirking music of an artist like alt-rocker Howe Gelb, who also embraces different influences and creates a drifting, ethereal singular sound.

Wanderlust opens with “Brothers.”  Electronic effects and McGowan’s Rhodes and Masakowski’s vocal harmonies coalesce into a stuttering groove that isn’t that far removed from the post-rock jittery ambiance of Radiohead.  Enchanting as hell, then Weaver and Royal enter on bass and sax with playful combinations while still interacting with the original theme… as if jazz and post-rock are shadowboxing.

“Dresden” begins with a sublime intro of cello and piano juxtaposed against radio frequencies and white noise.  Not quite avant-garde, not quite modern classical, and not quite ambient electronica, it’s a mist of cross-currents.  It leads right into the old-school jazz-rock fusion of a Mahavishnu Orchestra, with its sharp guitar edge, dramatic vocal harmonies, Thibodeaux’s frenetic bursts of percussion, and surging tempos and volume.

And this, also, transitions right into the next song without a moment of silence (a use of interludes that serves this album very well).  “Tehran” has a whiff of Middle-East music, though the imagery of deserts it conjures is more akin to the red rocks and big blue skies of the American southwest.

Several tracks, like “Interzone” and “Wanderlust,” have spoken word, accompanied by acoustic guitar and percussion hinting at folk and Latin and alt-rock.

And other tracks recall a seaside lounge vibe.  Tracks like “Aetherea” and “Lonely Moon” match warm vocals with sunny keys, the quick fills of saxes and trumpets and strings… uplifting music that grooves its way to higher elevations.  Guitar either pecks out the melody or scoops it up and takes off in flight.  Contrails of electronics and effects leave their mark in the wake of song finales.

This album has an elusive construction to it.  It builds up from track to track, not revealing a sense of album cohesion until near the very end.  It was tenth track “Clouds” when I really fell completely for this album.  For much of the recording, I felt like I was constantly playing catch-up as the music slowly wore down my preconceptions and (supposed) preferences, until I was finally enjoying this album on its own terms… even if I still wasn’t sure what those terms were.  But the interplay of Masakowski’s vocal harmonies with strings and piano, the gentle crash of drums, it was a virtual swell of sound that completely immerses the senses.  When soprano sax bursts into the mix, I was hooked.  Such an odd, compelling beauty here, enhanced further by electric guitar and effects joining in for the big finale.

The album ends with “Arjuna,” which begins with nifty intro that features slide guitarist Dave Easley (of Brian Blade’s Fellowship) and Andrew McLean’s tabla performing a clever raga.  It’s a strange interlude to lead into the pop-music that follows, but it both works and is definitely consistent with this ensemble’s approach to the music.  Vocals and keys trade bright lines.  Electric guitar leads into some nice trumpet and sax accompaniment, and there’s some hypnotic interplay between Weaver’s bass and a combination of electronic effects and Hines’s acoustic guitar.  Most attractive about the album closer is that it repeatedly builds into seemingly grand finales, just to let the floor drop off, then begin building back up to yet another one, each time different instruments joining the pop-music core of guitar and vocals.

Just thrilled with this album.  Its elusive nature is delightfully compelling, but the challenges the music presents do nothing to interfere with the simple act of sitting back and enjoying it.

This album is Self-Produced.

Music from the New Orleans scene.

Download a free 4-track demo set The Traveler EP from Hines’s Soundcloud page, courtesy of the artist.  All four tracks eventually made it onto Wanderlust, though, likely, with a slightly different production.

Available at:  eMusic | CDBaby CD&Digital | Amazon: CD | MP3