If the Ava Luna and Celestial Shore show at BSP on September 27 says anything definitive about the new indie guitar-rock, it is this: Musical complexity and formidable intellectual challenge are back, and the kids dig it, baby, within reason – some of them. In their own more street-level way, these two fabulous, prolific and very serious Brooklyn bands share an aesthetic universe with such breakout stars of you-can’t-do-this BK art-rock and soul as Dirty Projectors, Grizzly Bear and St. Vincent.
Celestial Shore is the more overtly proggy, dreamy and psychedelic; Ava Luna plays the part of art-groovers and brainy soul-appropriators. Both are so good, so diligent and so rather brilliantly self-invented that if you hate them, it is most likely because you feel threatened by them and their educations. “Whatever happened to simple, cathartic rock and sturdy, honest songs that people like?” you moan.
Oh, stop being like that, then. Please. Make more room under Heaven for everything that anyone might dream up. Plus, these are two pretty good pop bands, too. On Electric Balloon (2014, Western Vinyl), Ava Luna refines, streamlines and commits more than ever to their edgy, abrasive-but-sophisticated post-Prince soul aesthetic. The digressive, arty restlessness of past records has been tamed some, but not entirely domesticated by any means, and they remain as ever commanders of a really beautiful harmonic sense in which a default tense funk dissonance can go Stevie at any moment – and even a little Steely Dan, with no reason to be ashamed about that. The big change on Electric Balloon is that this dynamic band has finally released an album that gets in your face and under your skin with its biting sounds and nervous groove in the way their live shows always have.
On “Creation Myth,” the accurately named Celestial Shore’s pre-release single in advance of the impending full-length Enter Ghost (due October 14 on Hometapes), the band unveils a punkier, snarkier side, yoked to an odd-phrased ambiguous melody that is not far off from Kevin Barnes in guitar-rock mode. For a taste of most of Celestial Shore’s previous output, check out the single “Die for Us,” in which the band appears at first to be ironing out some of the digressive kinks that have always stood between them and a kind of pure celestial Beach Boys dream-pop. But no; the last two-and-a-half minutes are occupied by a quavering, scintillating psychedelic freakout that could go on another five minutes with no real complaints. The extended outro also illustrates another longstanding Cool Fact about Celestial Shores: The lead instrument in this band is drums.
Neither band can quite get the weird all the way out, and really don’t mean to. They’re just engaged, each in their own beautiful, earnest way, in the timeless struggle between art and pop. Come, let these smart and well-meaning city kids have their way with you for a night. You won’t regret it.
Output Agency presents Ava Luna, Celestial Shore & Star Rover, Saturday, September 27, 10 p.m., $7, BSP, 323 Wall Street, Kingston; www.bspkingston.com.