Album of the Week: Harrington, Gustin & Zahn ― Tura Lura

Album of the Week returns with a look at the new album from Dave Harrington, Jeremy Gustin, and Spencer Zahn.
By    May 21, 2020

Will Schube has embraced the Darkside.

Dave Harrington and Spencer Zahn have that psychic connection often mythologized but rarely tapped into. Harrington is a world-class guitarist and Zahn resides on the bass, but to limit their compositions to particular instruments is both unfair to the work they create and simply wrong. Harrington’s band work uses the guitar as a foundation from which his group relentlessly builds; often psychedelically, often loudly. Zahn’s own project, which Harrington produces, relies on more ambient textures to accent his acoustic bass and electronic experiments. The two artists take drastically different approaches as individuals, but when they link up, which happens a lot, the results tend to be astounding interpretations of jazz and pop traditions.

Along with Jeremy Gustin―who I’ve seen steal the show multiple times while playing drums for modern day guitar hero Delicate Steve―Harrington and Zahn took to the studio last summer to record Tura Lura. Out today via Cascine, the album is a fascinating look into how these musicians respond to playing with each other in a more traditional band setting. While the three played a bunch of shows live, this is the first time I’ve heard them in the studio as a band, as opposed to on stage or assuming a producer-recorder hierarchy. Birthed out of a last-minute gig as a trio opening for Exo-Tech at Arts Centre Melbourne, the group decided to book some time and record a collection of songs with Phil Weinrobe on the boards and Jesse Harris on production and a few auxiliary instruments. 

While Harrington and Zahn have an established relationship as songwriting collaborators, this is the first I’ve heard Gustin add to their compositions. The drummer is an accomplished solo artist in his own right, releasing music under the name The Ah on the excellent NNA Tapes. Gustin is a menace on the kit, but his solo tunes exist without any work on the drum set. It’s less a deliberative choice than trying to create music outside of his traditional POV, and the results are more obscure, more daring, and more creative for it. While each member of the group moves freely in their own work, here, on Tura Lura, the band dynamic allows them to lock into more traditional song structures without sacrificing any of the originality that each brings to their instrument.

After that initial show in Melbourne, the trio began performing consistently at Bar Lunático in Brooklyn, establishing the general aesthetics the project would encompass. The album was recorded over a single weekend, and Tura Lura is one of the year’s best experimental releases―even if it’s not nearly as avant-garde as some of the other work these dudes have produced.

The album thrives in space and patience. You can almost hear Zahn and Gustin listening to Harrington, waiting for certain guitar cues and pacings to invite them into the fold. That’s not to say that this album is led by Harrington. Rather, his guitar represents a top layer that subtly melts into the rhythm section beneath it. Album opener “All I Can Do” is a stunning introduction and a pretty accurate roadmap for how the rest of the LP reveals itself. It’s fascinating what three guys on three instruments working around a fairly small collection of ideas can create. “All I Can Do” uses a shuffle to orient the players together, with Harrington using occasional wide open, top-down-highway-cruising guitar chords to bring the group back to the song’s groove. “Break Light” is led by Zahn’s serpentine bassline and Harrington’s abrasive minor chords, which snap the propulsive snare pattern from Gustin out of its mesmerizing hold.

“Cuyahoga” switches the style up, settling into a meandering country lick, which immediately makes me want to hear Dave Harrington make a pedal steel record. For the time being, this will suffice, with its nature sounds and bird chirps populating a desolate landscape, perfectly empty and propped by an unending horizon. “Iasos” sounds like a softcore reimaging of the James Bond theme song and “Western Lands” could accompany the moments before the final shootout in a Sergio Leone film. 

The album spans an impressive number of styles and presents a multitude of ideas while still sounding familiar as its own design. The trio are seasoned musicians, sure, but their cohesion here is something magnificent. It’s an album that exists in a self-contained universe, wholly original and referential to its players. There are glimpses of Harrington, Zahn, and Gustin scattered throughout, but mostly, Tura Lura sounds like a single body you can’t tear apart.

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