Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google+ Share on Reddit Share on Pinterest Share on Linkedin Share on Tumblr Ava Luna’s draw has always been their ability to meld great musicianship with interesting, vivacious rock music. While wearing CBGB influences proudly on their sleeve, they still managed to offer a pleasant twist on the familiar angularity of Talking Heads and The B-52’s. On their first album in over three years, Moon 2, the quintet polish their sound up and let the energy relax for an album that reaches for excellency and intricacy in the sounds of lounge music and laid-back electro. Moon 2 opts for feeling over forward progression. There are no destination points, no giant climaxes. More often than not, the tracks feel like they were a series of reserved improvisations on a single idea, and the best nuggets that came out of the sessions were cut into tracks. This isn’t to say that music is wholly directionless. There are moments that carry more weight than others, and some tracks (“Deli Run,” “On Its Side the Fallen Fire”) build towards momentous conclusions. The former is particularly enjoyable, featuring one of the strangest melodies, complemented by the repeated refrain asking “If I go for a deli run/ Would you roll with me?” The biggest change between this album and Ava Luna’s past efforts is the increasingly electronic production. There was always a grit and in-the-moment edge to their music that came across both in performance and in recording that seemed nearly incapable of containing the wild music, as if a track like “Crown” was arresting bouts of noise and passion. On Moon 2, the approach is more refined, and it’s not clear whether or not this was a good move. There are benefits to this new approach, chief among them the wider range of sounds. Even though the lineup hasn’t changed, the product has. The guitars are filtered through more effects, there are a lot more synthesizers and the different combinations of the core elements more diverse. At it’s best, this helps add distinguishing factors between the otherwise similar compositions. The bass on the closing track, “Moon,” is incredibly smooth, and helps further the super-spacey atmosphere the band is reaching for. On “Mine,” the sounds is lower and more distorted, and it perfectly matches the erratic nature of the rapid-fire monotone vocals. The downfall of this studio-created sound is that there are more than a few moments where the production tricks and effects move towards gimmickry. In particular, the production and mixing on the vocal tracks is questionable. The multitracked harmonies will drop in and out sporadically, and sometimes they’ll pan around and shift in volume a handful of times in a phrase. If the band is searching for a disorienting effect, it’s absolutely working. The consequence is that these tricks often feel distracting or lacking purpose, and take away from the elements surrounding them that do work. One of the consistently great elements of Moon 2 is Ethan Bradford’s bass playing. Many of these tracks seem to be built off of a bass-drum groove, so the success of each one is dependent on the writing and execution of these skeletons. Track after track, Bradford finds the perfect mix of dead-on rhythm and a tasteful feel to fit the laid-back mood of the album. This trait is complemented by Julian Fader’s drumming, which is so spot-on that it’s unassuming. The album is more about overall mix than individual parts, so anything except his tight, simple rhythms would be overwrought. A track like “Set it Off” is so infectious that the core groove alone validates the chaos that follows. Moon 2 is a step in a different direction for Ava Luna. If you were looking for more freaky rock music with some no-wave and post-punk tinges like on Electric Balloon, this might disappoint. If you love artists like Hiatus Kaiyote or Space Captain, then you might appreciate its lounge-styled vibes. The group still hasn’t solidified an approach to this new sound, but there are plenty of tracks that show a promise for what the next album could bring.