Disappointingly land in the musical purgatory of just fine.
The second album from TaxiWars, the collaborative project of dEUS singer Tom Barman and saxophonist Robin Verheyen along with bassist Nicolas Thys and drummer Antoine Pierre, Artificial Horizon is primarily an album of grooves. While grooves can take you far, they can also lead to monotony, and it rarely feels like the band really allows themselves to venture outside the pocket, which fosters a bit of stiffness in some of the compositions, resulting in a collection of tracks that disappointingly land in the musical purgatory of just fine.
Taking post-bop cues and informing them with the sensibilities of the exploding British-jazz scene and modern hip-hop Artificial Horizon often sounds incredibly familiar. The album is flush with the types of instrumentals Kendrick Lamar might have utilized on To Pimp A Butterfly or untitled unmastered or that Anderson.Paak has been working with for years. At a certain point, if a listener is going to spend time with an album with interesting, groove-heavy jazz beats and poetry why wouldn’t they turn to those who’ve done it best?
That said, the songs of Artificial Horizon make a perfect soundtrack for a late-night drive or train ride along the streets of a soiled city. This is jazz for a dimly-lit lounge with a stench of cigarette-smoke and whiskey-breath, or at least that is what it aims to be.
The rise and fall of intensity on the keys and lively solos from Verheyen on “Drop Shot” open the album strongly. The percussion and bass-forward title track, despite the unnecessary manipulation of Barman’s vocals, feels more like an interlude but keeps the momentum flowing into “The Glare,” which might be the most expressive song on the album even if it reaches just beyond three-minutes. “Irritated Love” moves through its sentimentality in a slow manner, and where a song like that can commonly feel like a lull in an album, the move away from hopping, angular jazz makes it feel like a much needed deep breath.
The second half of the record continues along much of the same trail blazed by the first and is plagued by many of the same issues. A song like “Safety in Numbers” is a song that feels like it is building throughout, but fades out before listeners are given the climax. TaxiWars have succeeded in their effort to make music concise, sharp jazz tracks, but that brevity comes at the cost of some of the compositions feeling as though they cut short pieces that are wanting to expand into long, explosive solos, crescendos and peaks. Fortunately, with a little added air, Artificial Horizon closes well with “On Day Three,” a soft and touching end albeit one that doesn’t quite feel like the final piece that all the preceding tracks foreshadowed.
Despite the grungy aesthetic of Artificial Horizon, too many of the pieces are virtuosically put together—there is an aura of wild, loose energy that’s missing from these songs. It seems somewhat unfair to criticize a group’s control and togetherness, but the lack of chaos and TaxiWars’ ability to consistently stave off entropy is what leads to this album to feeling a step or two short of being truly exhilarating or memorable.
It doesn’t feel as though anything of great importance is being brought to the table on Artificial Horizon—not that it’s necessary for an album to do so—it is a pleasant enough experience while the record spins, but not one that feels as though it demands constant returns. There is an ever-present feeling one gets while listening to this album that there has to something else out there that would better satisfy whatever musical itch you’re looking to scratch.