Carlos Hernandez is the son of a '70s New York soul DJ. After a detour playing in punk and noise projects (and producing for bands like Fucked Up), he returned to his soul roots and formed Ava Luna, a band of two girls and four guys, to explore a sound that combines all those ideas. Recently having released their debut LP Ice Level, which was praised by Spin as "a beaming mix of ice-cool vintage '80s no wave grooves and extra-lush three-part girl group harmonies", and by Pitchfork as "glorious", they are frequently compared to fellow sound mavericks TVOTR and Dirty Projectors, as fronted by Prince and backed by Destiny's Child.
Ava Luna's latest album is titled Ice Level, but their brand of experimental soul is anything but icy. Pumped full of vintage warmth, skittering funkified rhythms, and some sweltering falsetto, this is primal, emotional music. When frontman Carlos Hernandez asks "is it science or is it romance?" we can attest that Ava Luna's music definitely skews towards romance. Consisting of four men and two women, their sound hits an intriguing space that at once feels lively, even chaotic, yet leaves plenty of space for each instrument and voice to cut through. With the dueling male/female vocals and experimental take, Ava Luna's closest contemporaries are undoubtedly fellow New York residents The Dirty Projectors. However, their sound is more rooted in soul, and draws from the same energy The Beatles tapped into when letting loose on raspy, manic R&B classics like "Happiness Is a Warm Gun," "Oh Darling," and "Helter Skelter."
Ava Luna's music often feels all over the place in an intriguing way. "Wrenning Day" features drums that move in a series of shuffles and sidesteps, accelerating and slowing in a surprisingly funky and danceable fashion as vocals swirl gorgeously around it all. Hernandez sounds progressively more strained and impassioned as growling bass adds some menace to the beautiful melodies. Title track “Ice Level” is slow and softly sensual, closer to traditional soul than other songs on the album, but even this one has a tightly wound energy that gives an exhilarating edge to the smooth soul sounds.
Ava Luna is certainly one of those the sum is greater than the whole of its parts bands, blasting through an album mixing the traditional with the experimental with style and confidence.