Album review: "Ice Level"
By Mark Jenkins
Friday, Mar. 16, 2012
Carlos Hernandez aspires to a neo-soul croon that's warm and silky. But his band, Ava Luna, keeps spoiling that vibe with rough, wintry blasts of synth and guitar. The septet also includes three female backup vocalists whose arty parts are closer to Philip Glass - or Dirty Projectors - than to Destiny's Child. On "Ice Level," the band's debut album, these diverse
elements combine to create music that's both seductive and off-putting.
That's no accident, of course. Hernandez is trained in classical composition, and his ideas of counterpoint aren't exactly those of mainstream pop-soul. The band's rhythm section brings the funk, but in a cold, jittery way that recalls 1980s post-punk.
At their noisiest, the guitar and keyboards are also scrappy, although they often retract to give maximum space to the vocals. On some songs, notably the epic title track, the group further complicates the arrangements with disco-style string flourishes.
If soul music is Ava Luna's foundation, such fussy, raucous songs as "Calculus" don't provide that tradition's joyousness. The band's sound is just too contrary. And, although Hernandez is an accomplished singer, he's not exactly Al Green. "Ice Level" is smartly conceived, skillfully executed and bracingly complex, but not a whole lot of fun.