There’s a mischievous air of cool around Ava Luna. With Infinite House, their third LP, they’re laughing at inside jokes in between fractured funk stomps and screeds of Beat poetry. Find them recalling Janelle Monaé at her most adventurous on lead single “Coat of Shellac” or the Black Keys before they went major on the fiery “Billz.” Draw lines between Infinite House and the Inherent Vice soundtrack as the hypnotic “Tenderize” echoes the neurotic snap of Can’s “Vitamin C” and “Steve Polyester” finds Becca Kauffman giving a surreal monologue in the same way Joanna Newsom reads Pynchon prose. Ava Luna are quirky and confident, mysterious and compelling. Their compositions are gleefully loose rock interpretations, postmodern soul tunes perched on the line between brilliance and the abyss.
Infinite House is their most polished record to date. “Polished,” in this case, does not mean that Ava Luna’s jagged edges have been sanded away. Rather, they’ve been accentuated. Dave Fridmann’s production lets each eccentricity in their particular vein of stellar postpunk deconstructionism shine. “Tenderize,” for example, finds band members in conversation with the producer as the song struts with a jerky relationship to the beat, whereas songs like “Black Dog” and “Company” feature brash, pounding guitars mixed to clipping fuzz, as though the band were too loud to contain on tape. Subtle flourishes like these make Infinite House a strong successor to 2014’s Electric Balloon, where similar ideas competed against each other in a less cohesive mix.
“[Electric Balloon] was basically a collection of songs, loose in spirit and execution,” says founding member Carlos Hernandez. “This one turned into one whole work. With Dave, it felt very much to me like the songs were metamorphosing into this space I couldn’t even conceive of.”
If Infinite House sounds mystical, it’s not by accident. “This record wrote itself,” says Hernandez. “It tells a story, and whatever that story might be, I’m still trying to interpret myself, to this day.” As the legend goes, Infinite House was born from the band’s stay in a house overrun by weeds and the forgotten possessions of prior inhabitants deep in the Mississippi woods. “It felt…beyond human there,” says Kauffman with a wry chuckle. “A neighbor told us a ghost story about our area, and the hairs on our neck were raised at all times, keeping an eye and ear out for…something else.” The experience imbues Infinite House with bits of Southern Gothic chic. Take “Steve Polyester,” for example: He’s a character described as “a landscape, a ruby lined in gold, shaped like a cockroach.” He’s a legend produced by the environment. The scents, vibrations, and open space of Mississippi — basically the antithesis of anything you’d find in New York City — offered Ava Luna the chance to divine inspiration from nature and touch the transcendent only found when escaping everyday life.
But a return to everyday life is inevitable, and therein lies the central conflict of Infinite House: as Hernandez frames it, reconciling the “mode of perception” one feels when surrounded by quiet nature or experiences in the bustle of New York.
“Take a song like ‘Billz,’ ” he says. “People think ‘Billz’ is about financial stress, but in my mind it’s about suddenly realizing that a person you care for, or a job, or an artistic pursuit, or any sort of belief, eventually falls by the wayside as the entropy of humanity creeps in.” This entropic creep gives Infinite House a nervous, almost urgent quality, as ideas get fired off quickly, given little time to age before their beauty gets stale. When the album’s first chorus comes in, the band wailing “Do you appreciate my company?” over pounding guitar chords, the question sounds desperate, betraying a need for connection in a city of resentment.
“Trying to bottle up a sense of freeness and wonder and take it with you — whether that be in the form of a walk in the woods or a person you really care for — is ultimately the thing that’s going to save us,” says Hernandez. Whether he intended to or not, he and the rest of Ava Luna have succeeded in imparting such a sense. Infinite House is ultimately an upbeat record, one teeming with grooves and the confidence of a band at their full potential. “It feels like the resolution of a goal I set out when I started this band,” Hernandez says proudly. “It’s a bit damning to say, ‘What’s next? I don’t know,’ but for now, I’m happy and proud it came together the way it did.”
Wherever Ava Luna go next (and let’s not go nuts here — the album came out Tuesday), here’s hoping they’re as heady, wild, vibrant, dark, and confident as they are now.