New York City's music community is a tight knit bunch, so if you don't already know Invisible Familiars, there's a good chance that you've seen the man behind the band playing on a number of stages here, or in any town that you may call home. A musician's musician, Jared Samuel has long earned his living recording and performing live with countless artists we respect and love -- folks like Cibo Matto, the Ghost of the Saber Tooth Tiger, Martha Wainwright, and Sharon Jones, to name a few. Yet even more impressive than his talents as a multi-instrumentalist is his songwriting, a pursuit that he's put his full focus on as Invisible Familiars. The group's album debut, Disturbing Wildlife, was born out of a few solitary weeks spent in a borrowed houseboat on Jamaica Bay, where Jared sketched out a bulk of these tunes. Back on land, the demos were brought to full fruition over the course of two years with producer Michael Leonhart, along with a wide, rotating cast of musician friends that included Nels Cline, Jolie Holland, Ryan Sawyer, and Cibo Matto's Yuka Honda and Miho Hatori.
We were immediately taken when we first heard Invisible Familiars' recordings, and frankly, there are moments where you can almost imagine us at the shop championing Disturbing Wildlife as some obscure, should-have-been-a-classic pop album unearthed from FM radio's halcyon days. However, there's also a modern sense of psychedelia throughout -- from the bubbling sounds to the world-wise influences. Leadoff track "Clever Devil," which we released last summer as a 7" single, is all at once snaky and vivid, with Jared's acoustic guitar and mysterious, breathy melodies accented by little bursts of electronics and a guest spot from Stuart Bogie (Antibalas) on saxophone. The spacious, funky pop of "Heavenly All" is just as headphone friendly, as gurgling synths and tape loops swirl about the song's sighing harmonies, while "New Mutation Boogie" channels Brian Eno & David Byrne's exotic global polyrhythms into a visceral psychedelic romp.
Yet even as the production is intricate and colorful, it's thoughtfully applied and never once overwhelms the tunes. From the ethereal, melancholy sway of "Elaine Serene" to the dusky yearn of Harry Nilsson tribute "You and Your Arrow," in which Dixieland horns swell around Jared's expressive, hopeful melodies, Disturbing Wildlife defies easy categorization, and it's as soulful and timeless as anything you're bound to hear this year -- or anytime soon for that matter. (January 27, 2015)