Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Floating Action Desert Etiquette - Album Review

An album that’s been bending my ear recently is Desert Etiquette by Floating Action; released February 22nd on Park the Van records. Floating Action is the moniker for Black Mountain, NC songwriter/multi-instrumentalist/producer Seth Kauffman. Aside from a little bit of pedal steel added later, Kauffman played every instrument and sang every note heard on the album, and recorded it all within a 48 hour period. Having everything come directly from the source gives this record a very human, intra-connected feel.


There’s a distinctly low-fi, warm & fuzzy, psychedelic vibe running through the ten tracks. Low-fi can sometimes be another word for unprofessional, and psychedelic can sometimes mean inaccessible. But these aren’t lame bedroom recordings. The production is very lush and professional - seemingly incongruent instruments are mixed together with just the right amount of this accented with that to make for a soothing sound. It’s sparse enough that nothing seems out of place or without purpose. Often the experimental (sitar, kalimba) is countered with the comfortable (catchy R&B/Soul/rock-steady-riddims) - a foundation that keeps everything floating just a few feet off the ground.

It’s definitely old-feeling, like a time capsule of found-sounds buried 40 years ago in the canyons of Los Angeles that was just dug up in the mountains of North Carolina...having stopped along the way at points even farther East and into the past with short trips into the future. Yes, retro with a new coat of paint...although never derivative - any traces of such have been wiped away by the tides.

Desert Etiquette starts off slow with the song “Well Hidden”, presenting the listener with a dose of middle-eastern riffs. But rather than being cheesy, this exotic sampling is somehow easy to warm to. The 2nd track ambles along much like the 1st, but by now the listener is starting to get hooked - entranced by the deep, colorful, layered, and spacious production. By the third track “The Balance” it’s difficult not to be fully engaged – dialed-in to every lyric and instrumental fill.

The rest of the album follows this same formula: rootsy, breezy, slow-burning sing-along songs...on yet off, hazy yet crystal clear, full but never cluttered, simple while being complex. Instruments come and go: upright bass, washboard, slide guitar, horns, drums, electric keyboards, distorted rhythm guitar, glockenspiel(?), claves(?), and who knows what else (sitar and thumb piano as mentioned above). Every instrument can be heard distinctly – if that’s the way you want to approach it – or as a piece of the overall sonic puzzle. This is stripped-down, East meets West Americana for headset parties, chilled-out campfires and cold frosty mornings.

Floating Action will be opening for Dr. Dog on Thursday, April 7th at The National in Richmond, VA.

DOWNLOAD: Floating Action - "Well Hidden" (from Desert Etiquette)
DOWNLOAD: Floating Action - "Eye of the Needle" (from Desert Etiquette)
DOWNLOAD: Floating Action - "Live at the Grey Eagle" (Free Live Album)

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