If every substitute teacher acted as Harry Burgess, the world would be much more willing to redefine pop. Fresh out of university, the Adult Jazz frontman seems to have made himself a pupil alongside his students, approaching music with the perplexed curiosity and playful spirit of someone who hasn’t been shaped by the confines of Western definitions. As a result, his band’s debut album, Gist Is, sees monstrous talent wandering with its eyes closed, trusting in itself to discover the unseen by whatever means necessary.
Self-recorded and produced over the course of their four-year education at university in Leeds, Gist Is is the product of four friends who hope to revive the unified aesthetic its musical parents penned in the early- to mid-2000s, namely Grizzly Bear’s Yellow House, Joanna Newsom’s Ys and Björk’s Vespertine. The back-to-back setup of long-form orchestral, pitch-shifting songs doesn’t make the record prone for Billboard pop charts. Its intuitive flow and dream-like wavering, however, make it easy to absorb.
Things kick off with the slow eight-minute opener “Hum,” sounding not too far off from the now-classic woodsy ringing and wistful horns of Justin Vernon. It immediately warns listeners; if you’re looking for simple pop, this isn’t it. You have to be patient if you want to see the bigger route that is Gist Is. “Spook” asks listeners to do the same. Its dark start blooms into a flutter of free association and throat grooves, pulling in group chants and free-form singing that’s as easy to learn as those in Akron/Family’s jovial “Ed Is A Portal.”
Much of the album seems to flirt with the Dirty Projectors’ unsettling structure. “Be A Girl” has the baroque twists of The Glad Fact, and the finger-picked guitar and rhythmic drumming on closer “Bonedigger” sounds like a forgotten half of “Temecula Sunrise.” By far the most Dirty Projectors-esque track is “Donne Tongue,” flaunting freak-folk jazzed guitar and off-key plodding that comes full circle with a passionate flailing, easily making it the album’s best track.
Burgess claims the sound as their own by threading it all together with his distinct vocals. Unhinged melodies fit comfortably beside traditional scat, especially during the atonal downwards spiral of his voice in “Idiot Mantra.” Indulgence in expression, as Burgess coined it in our recent interview, is never too rich to consume.
This year has once again seen pop stars clawing for the top, but Adult Jazz is meditatively inching its way up the ranks with its own version of the genre. Considering the four men are rather young, their adolescence does leave a part of the album feeling unfinished, but it also leaves the impressive marks of someone who has exceeded the limits of his age. Seeing a band carry on the complexities of long-form songs, especially when giving their entire selves up to the process while they’re at it, is the boldest a debut can be. If they change dramatically on a future release, we won’t even be upset. That unpredictability is what makes Adult Jazz’s music so enlightening.