Upon first listen, The Parlor's latest album Wahzu Wahzu is a fairly enigmatic piece of music. At any given point, it lies at intersections of pop, electronic, world, rock, folk, and even jazz—influences so broad as to make their confluence inscrutable, particularly to one as unhealthily obsessed with genre classification as myself. But somehow, despite being eclectic to a degree that would make Blitzen Trapper blush, it works.
Central to understanding why it works, though, is getting to know the people behind the music. While they've grown into a substantial group in recent years, occasionally touring with as many as nine members, The Parlor's main creative force is wife-and-husband duo Jen O'Connor and Eric Krans.
After spending a good deal of time studying sustainable agriculture abroad in Thailand and New Zealand, the couple took up residence at O'Connor's family estate in upstate New York and began the process of turning it back into a working farm. Their instruments and recording equipment took up residence in the parlor of their "haunted" farmhouse, and the band has called that room its home ever since—hence the name.
As a result of the somewhat unconventional path they've taken, Krans and O'Connor bring an astonishingly diverse set of inspirations to their music. The album opener, "I Saw You in the Truth," could easily feature in a lineup of future-soul acts; "Star Chart" sounds like early-2000's R&B; "You Are You Were You Can" is a cloud-parting chamber-pop track with elements reminiscent of late-model Radiohead; "Wahzu Wahzu" is beachy garage rock through and through, punctuated with pizzicato double bass; "The Surgeon's Knife" is a masterfully catchy piece of contemporary indie dance pop; "Theme from Wahzu" is a jazzy lounge interlude; "Wishes in the Sheets" rounds things out with a pensive, melancholy guitar riff for driving alone at night.
Taken as individual tracks, it can be hard to see how this menagerie fits together, but the key is in the execution. Though it meanders from genre to genre, Wahzu Wahzu manages to maintain a consistent aesthetic throughout. The transitions never feel overly abrupt, even when they would seem inevitably so on paper.
That cohesiveness likely stems from the band's overall structure. The Parlor isn't a group that's only together when they can afford to rent studio time—music is integral to Krans and O'Connor's Cloud Cult-esque, pan-artistic lifestyle on their farm. There's a warmth and celebratory playfulness to their sound that can only come from people who take great joy in the acts of creating, improvising, and exploring untrod musical territory, and Wahzu Wahzu is a truly captivating album as a result. Their unpretentious exuberance ensures that it's likely to remain just that for a long time to come.