Ava Luna (No 1,709)

New York no wave-style dance music rewrites the punk-funk rulebook from A to Ze

Hometown: Brooklyn.

The lineup: Ethan Bassford (bass), Felicia Douglass (vocals), Julian Fader (drums), Carlos Hernandez (vocals, guitar), Becca Kauffman (vocals), Anna Sian (vocals, synthesizer), Nathan Tompkins (synthesizer).

The background: We're here writing about New York band Ava Luna because of one simple sentence that we read about them: "Stax meets Kraftwerk." It's not even particularly accurate, but it's so brilliantly evocative in its intimation of worlds-colliding and aesthetic opposites coming/clashing together that we couldn't resist investigating them. Actually, they're more Ze meets Pixies, but whatever: if the idea of angular, anxious, jittery, jangling funk appeals, where the machines are handled by wild, neurotic New Yorkers, then you'll love Ava Luna.

Reading on mobile? Click here to listen

Apparently, Ava Luna's mainman, Carlos Hernandez, is "the son of a New York soul DJ with noise credentials"; we keep hoping that he's keeping quiet the fact that his old man is Andy "Coati Mundi" Hernandez, Kid Creole's diminutive sidekick and the hyperactive character behind the all-time Ze salsa/rap classic, Que Pasa/Me No Pop I. Certainly, singer Felicia Douglass has come clean about her dad, and why wouldn't she? He is, after all, Jimmy Douglass, something of a legend in avant-R&B/punk-funk circles, having produced Justin Timberlake, Aaliyah, Timbaland, Gang of Four, etc. 

Anyway, the band call what they do "nervous soul", and as soon as Douglass Sr heard it - their spasmodic New York no wave rhythms and Hernandez's "eccentric, moi?" David Byrne-does-Prince uptight falsetto - his response was brutally direct. "You guys are onto something," he said, pointing towards Hernandez. "But you fucking suck. You need to get a different singer." Whatever his misgivings, he agreed to preside over Ava Luna's new album, Electric Balloon, with its softer, more sibilant coos from Becca Kauffman and Anna Sian offsetting the vocals of Hernandez, a man who suffers from severe sleep deprivation and sounds it. It's a very NYC type of dance album, in the tradition of everyone from James Chance to Dirty Projectors. There's a distinct dishevelled communal "mess-thetic" to the record, one that was recorded by the musicians all cramped together, based on a "one-take, fuck-ups, no overdubs" credo. It features needling, niggling guitars and skronking, squawking sax. Every so often the band alight upon a charming melodic phrase, at which point you will possibly start shouting at the Dansette: "Yes! Keep playing that bit! That's a tune right there!" before the players themselves get bored and head off to do more needling and skronking. They may not have a Stillness Is the Move in their repertoire, but they may well force you to Contort Yourself.

The buzz: "Angular piece of funk music… for anyone who isn't afraid to admit they love Trout Mask Replica."

The truth: They're a subtle discolation of the norm (slight return).
Most likely to: Worry about the government.

Least likely to: Know what boys like.

What to buy: Electric Balloon is released on March 10 by Western Vinyl.

File next to: Talking Heads, James Chance, Dirty Projectors, Rip Rig & Panic.

Links: avalunamusic.com.

Friday's new band: Jaako Eino Kalevi.


Paul Lester

The GuardianTramp

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