A Journal Of The Dark Arts
Arjun is an instrumental 3-piece out of New York, made up of Eddie Arjun Peters on lead guitar, Lamar Myers on drums, and Andre Lyles on bass. They play a kind of instrumental jam band post-rock, that brings to mind many of the leading lights of quality instrumental music; from Phish to Lotus to Tortoise to Red Sparrowes to Buckethead. Core is the second part of a planned trilogy, that began with 2013’s Space. If that disc was the sound of interstellar exploration, Core would be the moment of exploring a new, inhabitable planet.
Both “jam bands” and “instrumental post-rock” have fallen out of public fascination, mainly due to the legions of imitators working in both styles. It’s really too bad, as adventurous instrumental music tends to be technically accomplished, and more musically interesting than yr typical pop music. This fall from grace probably has to do with jam bands’ tendency towards longform, free form excursions, which in the wrong hands can go as limp as overboiled noodles. Post-rock had a tendency to also be overlong, overwrought, melodramatic, and vaguely pretentious. Arjun settles the score, and reminds us what is possible within the scope of instrumental music.
There is nothing noodly about Core. Instead, the band are tight and well-rehearsed, having the precision and mastery of a good stoner rock band, as wave after wave of memorable, melodic lines spill out of Peters’ guitar. Peters guitar tone is out of this world (pun slightly intended), glowingly swathed in a nimbus of reverb, which emphasizes the heroic tone of the record. There is never a wasted second on Core, although the album is a bit front loaded, with the first three tracks being the album’s strongest moments. This is more of a testament to how damn good these first three songs are, rather than a derogatory comment on the rest of the album.
“Rocks” comes on with a storm of pummeling fuzz guitar, which quickly gives way to a joyful burst of soloing, while Lamar Myers quick, skittering drumming dances around the beat. It’s a beautiful mirror of a song, ending where it began, with the heroic pummeling fuzz chords. It’s a glorious album opener, which reminds me of Tortoise’s classic album opener “Seneca” off of Standards.
“Deep Impact” is as soulful as Hendrix, but has a kind of innocent, joyful wistfulness that you hear in Phish’s finest moments.This is a classic acid rock head trip of a record, make no mistake about it. The many-limbed, light and shuffling jazz beats on “Deep Impact” reminds us, exactly, of why this kind of instrumental music is so essential. It raises the level of technical virtuosity, pushing things beyond the 4/4 prison of typical European-centric music. It’s funky, but it’s still tight and well-rehearsed.
For a number of reasons, the title track is Core‘s finest moment, most notably due to the presence of jam jazz legend John Medeski on organ. It is thrilling to hear Medeski’s big, wide-open electric church jazz chords, churning away. His funky blues gospel tone brings to mind my favorite Medeski, Martin, and Wood record, 1998’s Combustication. I like Medeski as a sideman. I feel like, in his own music, Medeski feels the need to further the cause of jazz and music in general, and i do understand, one can only riff on 3 chords for so many years before you get bored and feel the need to experiment. I feel like Medeski has a tendency to deconstruct a beat or riff, turning a jam upside down and inside out, which is fun and interesting, but also can be rather disrupting. It’s cool to hear him just laying out the vibes, creating a mood for someone else, and I think it gives you a better feeling of the tone and mood of his playing, and remember why we loved him so much, to begin with.
Peters’ playing really shines through on “Core”; soulful, tasteful, and melodic. He plays the guitar lines yu can remember and hum throughout the day, again, negating many of the criticisms leveled at instrumental music. It’s as tight, as well constructed, and as musical as pop music, but without shoehorning it into a particular meaning. Core leaves things open to construct yr own imagery, draw yr own conclusions. Even before I had read the song titles, I was seeing images of space bikers dodging meteors in an asteroid belt.
Core is many things, all at once. It’s layered and nuanced. There is energy and aggression, in the tight and focused pummeling riffs. There is a sweet, heartfelt soulfulness (perhaps the pervasive mood), but which quickly gives way to a feeling of mystery and moodiness. There’s funkiness, there’s churchiness, looseness and tightness.
For those that never ceased believing in the powers of instrumental music. For the believers in the electric church. For those rooted in the dirt of tradition, but reaching for the stars, this one is highly recommended, indeed.
Recommended for fans of: Jimi Hendrix, Phish, Medeski, Martin, & Wood, Tortoise
Arjun – Core