Operational modes are distinctive and necessary for a music project’s base structure and growth. The palette of instruments, their range, and the versatility thereof all play key roles in building toward the input of the collective’s output. When looking at an outfit like Archie Pelago, there’s a sense of curiosity, an intrigue angling toward the firm fusion of organic and electronic instrumentation. The three-piece project seems to pride itself on the seamless blending of operational modes and instrumental technique. Coming off all at once as a jazz, techno, and classically structured ensemble, Archie Pelago juggles the roles of each genre, dipping their toes into whatever pool is available or just fun for them at the time.
The ease with which Archie Pelago ushers in the movements and formations of their rather extensive pieces is what makes them fun to listen to. Opening track “D’s Diamonds” places plaintive keys and sax runs alongside pitched, vaporous vocals. The styling of the lithe synth lines and aquatic pads are fluid, curving and bending to the organic players’ embellishments. The mood is warm, inching listeners in.
Other tracks verge well into the footwork territory, with assertive tempos pushing upbeat snares along delayed pads licks and fluttering horns. The combination and adaptations here are pleasant, though there are moments of ideological failure, in which they let the tropes of the genres get the best of them. The atmosphere is light and engaging in a earworm-like manner, but the conceptualism behind these arrangements reside at a harsh and somewhat dishearteningly face-level value. “Chilly,” though endearing in its embracing of high tempos and subtle harmonic backing, finds itself lost in a rather silly vocal sample that jabbers on about money and other distinctively “footwork” phrases. Whereas the titular track is interesting in its slow build to half-timed drum & bass percussion, it’s hardly the stuff of a band integrating its position within a mass of genre material. The genres are utilized, but only insofar as they are referenced and skirted.
The real highlight of the record comes with nine-minute opus “Neighborhood Mephisto” and closing ballad “Saturn V.” The tracks show the project at the height of its powers, utilizing trance, footwork, and their classically-inflected jazz skills to push themselves toward creating a singular piece of music. Undulating synth lines wrap around bullet-like pitch envelopes and Reichian marimba grooves deliberately behind the beat. Pulsing and pushing, the track slides from movement to movement, unveiling a new textural embellishment with each stage. “Strings of Life” synth stabs cascade over phasing arpeggios, as the tempo lurches forward in cycles, landing on the back of meaty claps. In moments like these, they seem to be looking at a lot more than jamming in the moment. “Saturn V” sees the group using subtle polyrhythms and whirling effects to push forward a vaporous vocal sample. The track is New Age-y in conception but with string swells and hollow mid-range horns, taking the group to a more amorphous place and using the properties of genres rather than simply cramming the parts together.
Reminiscent of similar acts like post-rock collective Tortoise or the similarly structured and dynamic Galaxy2Galaxy (or even, abstractly, Seefeel and Peter Gordon’s collaborations with Factory Floor), Archie Pelago are hardly the first to blend live performance with in-the-moment electronic composition, and the ideas of a group like this prove why they shouldn’t be the last. Musicians like Four Tet or even the Sun Ra-borrowing Laurel Halo have absorbed and adapted the possibilities that one would hope to get from such a project, but with a collaborative album on the horizon, maybe there will be a shift in focus, a firm look at the why. Archie Pelago has a lot of room to flesh out their man-vs-machine setup, but veering away from genre and bookish-sounding tonal palettes may be the right move in order to grow from a dance music-leaning group to a collective with an unyielding sensibility for pushing the physical limits of its surrounding materials.