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Arp - Zebra Music Album Reviews

Arp - Zebra Music Album Reviews
With a large group of collaborators, Alexis Georgopoulos has crafted a pulsing, eclectic, wonderfully breezy album of ethereal psychedelia.

Alexis Georgopoulos has never been terribly secretive about his influences. Over the past 11 years of his solo career as Arp, he has gleaned from, paid homage to, and straight-up aped any number of his forebears. He has channeled the burbling arpeggios of the Berlin school, the labyrinthine art rock of Brian Eno, the crystalline fingerpicking of Durutti Column, and even the smoldering guitar fuzz of Flying Saucer Attack. But on Zebra, the New York musician’s first major solo album since 2013’s More, there is a song that might cause even longtime Arp-watchers to steal a second glance at their media player, wondering if there weren’t some kind of metadata mix-up. Over a gently swaying drumbeat, a pair of synth chords initiates the first stirrings of déjà vu; then a contrapuntal melody practices a sneaky bit of sleight-of-hand before Georgopoulos unveils a lilting mallet melody—and the big reveal. It’s not a cover; more like a Petri dish of brightly colored Balearic pop cloned straight from the DNA of its source: Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.”

This is new territory for Georgopoulos, but it is also a logical extension of his tendencies. He is a magpie with an uncanny ear for detail, a quality that has only become more pronounced the further his stylistic pendulum has swung. When Arp started out, the project was inspired mainly by the arpeggiated synthesizer music of Tangerine Dream and their ilk; by More, Georgopoulos’ interest in Brian Eno’s early albums had him nailing not just those records’ general vibe but many of their particulars: the snaky guitar tone, pistoning piano, vocal tics, and even titles.

But “Fluorescences,” while one of ZEBRA’s joyful highlights, is also an outlier. Georgopoulos’ influences have never felt quite so well integrated, nor his ideas so original, as they do across the rest of the album. On 2014’s Pulsars e Quasars EP, it was as though the effort to escape his influences was driving him to extremes of course correction, sending him careening between guitar noise and jangle pop. ZEBRA covers even more ground, but it coheres much better. Every song is its own miniature world, yet they all hang together like the stars of a single galaxy.

The album’s primary mode is a kind of airy, bright art pop in which marimba melodies ripple across a turquoise expanse of Mellotron, and fretless electric bass and acoustic guitar drip like moisture down a just-finished glass of Campari. It’s possible to detect hints of Talk Talk’s ethereal psychedelia in the playful weave of woodwinds, electronics, and earthy hand percussion. The tracks in this vein are less songs than excuses to luxuriate in a warm bath of tone and bubbling texture. They range from the pulse minimalism and Moog solo of “Parallelism” to the patch of shade that is “Ozu,” a sketch for saxophone and Mellotron that is so unassuming, I didn’t notice it until after a dozen or more listens to the album.

Then there are the detours, like “Fluorescences,” the synth-pop curveball, and “Nzuku,” which applies the Moog-and-marimba palette to jazzier ends; both of these more ebullient songs suggest an attempt to time-travel back to the terrace of Ibiza’s Amnesia discotheque circa 1984, when ECM and krautrock fell into rotation alongside records by Grace Jones and Wally Badarou. A pair of comparatively restrained tracks, “Folding Water” and “Moving Target,” are deployed like pencil cross-hatching to fill in the space between the record’s extremes. “Folding Water” is the lone link back to Georgopoulos’ time in the funk-punk band Tussle: It sounds a little like an outtake from Talking Heads’ Remain in Light where most of the mixing desk’s channels have been muted, leaving only puttering drums and glinting dub accents.

All of it makes for a wonderfully summery sound with Mediterranean overtones, languid as a post-meal nap and salty as a harborside kiss. It builds to a gentle climax with “Reading a Wave,” the album’s penultimate track, in which David Lackner’s keening saxophone soars above contrasting pulses—rolling jazz drums, liquid piano chords, tumbling synth squiggle—like a kite above the surf. It can’t be overstated how musical it all is. To make the album, Georgopoulos availed himself of a larger crew of collaborators than ever before—there are three percussionists, a bassist, a keyboard player, woodwinds, guitar—and it’s tempting to wonder if that isn’t what it took to get Georgopoulos out of his record collection and out of his head. If previous Arp records sometimes felt like columns of boxes to be checked, lists of footnotes to be collated, on ZEBRA, analytical listening gives way to the pure pleasure of being in the moment; it’s a celebration of community, of togetherness, of the magic of collaboration. In reaching out to others, Georgopoulos is discovering his own voice for the first time.

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