I'll admit right now that I don't know very much about jazz music. I've heard some of the greats, like Miles Davis and John Coltrane, but I've never spent any great deal of time studying and listening to their work. It probably makes me a crappy music reviewer (and I've never admitted to being a great one), but I'd like to still think I know a little something about music in general. Him is a group that I'd heard about in relation to some other groups that I enjoyed on the Bubble Core label, and finally decided that I would take the plunge. Started out as sort of a solo project of Doug Scharin (formerly of June of 44), the groups main influence is obviously jazz, although they mix a touch of dub, electronic, and afrobeat into things for quite a delightful time.
Drawing a parallel between the two groups that Scharin has been a major member of, I can remember the first time that I heard "Sharks And Sailors" by June of 44. I thought that the song was the absolute shizzle. It was something other than punk and something other than just straightforward rock, and the propulsive drumming and rumbling rhythm section were a large part of that. I felt some of the same things when listening to the first track on New Features ("Magnified Features"), even though the two songs are worlds apart.
Scharin establishes his solid presence early on in the disc, with the absolutely awesome, polyrhythmic "Magnified Features" (that breaks out into an extended solo about three quarters of the way through) and again on the long second track "In Transition." On each of the tracks, the band settle into some amazing grooves, letting individual instruments and players break out every once in awhile. The last track in particular has a great breakdown with guitars, keys, and saxophone locked into a head bobbing, hummable breakdown.
While the first two tracks are more straightforward on the jazz influences, it's on the third track "Out Here" (which is a reworking of the track "Six" off their previous 5/6 In Dub EP) where other elements start making themselves known a little bit more. The bassline takes on a bit more rubbery feel and by the time the disc hits the fourth track "Clouds," things have slipped very much into dub style as horns and guitars echo out to infinity and the the bassline gets as an old Lee Perry track.
The last two tracks move in even different directions, as "Were Once" drifts into an almost electronic rhythm and weird instrument atmospherics while and the last track "Sea Level" rocks out more than any track on the disc with some thick keyboards and guitars. Moving through the six tracks as sort of a musical progression of different genres, it's evident that the group (which has expanded on each release) has hit a definite stride in working together and can pull of quite a few different styles without stretching. The disc has a nice balance of feeling almost live, yet never coming off as wankery. Also (possibly because of the indie-rock backgrounds of the musicians), it doesn't feel as damn clinical as so much of the modern jazz I've heard. Whatever you want to call it, Him has put together a disc that deserves to be heard.