The four songs on Native Eloquence’s EP Big Blue Nowhere don’t completely resemble songs at all. The brainchild of artist Adam Hirsch and collaborators, the sprawling music meanders through bursts of horns, pretty open guitar chords, simple vocal melodies, and other delightful moments. Like jazz—in which Hirsch is unsurprisingly trained—the music gains momentum from spontaneous-seeming outpourings of expression. In the near-absence of recognizable verses, choruses, and bridges, Native Eloquence provides a landscape that immerses the listener with texture and mood.
“Doldrum,” the first track, opens on jazzy horn synths that intertwine with a reverb-filtered voice in a simple repeating melody, setting the tone of mournful noise pop. At around 2:30, though, a bouncy percussion synth signals a section change, and the song opens up into a chorus of sorts (insofar as they are the most likely lines to stay in your head): “Doldrum stay here / Right by my side / I will oblige.” But the coherence doesn’t last for too long; setting the last line, “I will oblige,” in a mesmerizing loop, meaning breaks downs like a word repeated until it’s only a sound, ultimately collapsing into a low drone that leads to an upbeat final section.
Any time you get too comfortable, Native Eloquence administers a little shock to wake you up. “Wash,” the album’s penultimate song, is its longest (almost nine minutes), possibly its most epic, and one of its best examples of this. After adding layer after layer of bells, mallets, horns, vocals, and other instrumental voices in pulsating repetitions, most sounds drop out to leave a beautiful melody and the original bells. Following the intro with two more sections, Native Eloquence cycles through similar patterns of cacophony and collapse, building the listener up and setting her down—or, rather, catapulting the listener up and letting her free-fall for a moment.
That kind of opposition also plays out in distance and intimacy on Big Blue Nowhere. There’s something inherently vulnerable about any early release, but it’s the nature of electronic music—especially when on the avant-garde side—to feel a little detached. In embracing both poles, Native Eloquence accomplishes what bands such as Animal Collective and Grizzly Bear do so well—managing to maintain earnestness while seeking experimentation. At its most poppy, the EP contains sonic shades of both groups as well (and when those two bands fall into the pop-end of a comparative spectrum, you know where things stand).
In its former incarnation, Native Eloquence was a one-man project, and as these videos from the band's label/art collective Stereocure demonstrate, part of the music’s draw was the fact that it was created by a single person in his own, fascinating world. As Hirsch has added two band member mainstays and up to ten album collaborators, the source of that thrill is only partially lost. Listening to Hirsch’s art—and that’s what it seems to demand we call it—it is clear he still inhabits that separate plane. And on Big Blue Nowhere, as on the videos and in the one-man band past, it’s easy to join him there.
Correction: A previous version of this review, published on September 3, stated that Big Blue Nowhere was the work of Adam Hirsch alone.