Audio Mixers: Jared Samuel; Michael Leonhart.
The members of Invisible Familiars -- Jared Samuel, Robbie Mangano, and Tim Kuhl -- have collectively and individually played with a who's-who of New York musicians, many of whom return the favor on their debut album Disturbing Wildlife. Nels Cline, Antibalas' Stuart Bogie, and Cibo Matto's Miho Hatori are among the players who help the trio position itself at the intersection of experimental and indie music. Disturbing Wildlife's best moments offer an inspired balance of rock-solid hooks and unpredictable twists: It's easy to hear why the bouncy, breathy "Clever Devil" earned comparisons to T. Rex, but the weird sounds in its margins elevate it beyond pastiche. Likewise, the band embellishes "Heaven All"'s crisp verses and swooning choruses with psychedelic flourishes that only enhance its appeal. These playful touches surface throughout the album, whether it's the way rippling keyboards bring some of the beach to "Elaine Serene"'s folky reverie, or the way "You and Arrow" combines ticking clocks, the sentimentality of vintage vocal pop, and vivid lyrics like "the itch you get when wounds are healing." Moments like these are so engaging that as a result, some of the more exploratory tracks take longer to sink in. Samuel wrote these songs holed up in a houseboat -- which may explain why "Cherryblossom" is equal parts sea shanty and lullaby -- and with the notable exception of "New Mutation Boogie," the album becomes more rambling and introspective as it unfolds. Even if the entirety of Disturbing Wildlife isn't as deft at mixing weird and catchy as its highlights, it's still an intriguing, enjoyable debut. ~ Heather Phares