Kelp Dwellers

Independent release, 2021

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


When last we met two of the trio that makes up Kelp Dwellers—Todd Montgomery and Gayle Ellett—they were exploring a forest of a different sort under the equally evocative name of Fernwood. The latter group’s 2015 disc Arcadia was distinctly earthy and organic, as well as entirely acoustic, using a wide array of stringed instruments and exotic percussion to create a sonic universe all its own.

Kelp Dwellers finds the two stringmasters plugging in, joined by drummer Craig Kahn for a fresh exercise in aural world-building. This time the elemental theme is water rather than earth, and the vibe is more energetic yet similarly thoughtful and expansive, a sort of progressive jazz-rock-surf fusion that’s full of sharp playing that nonetheless eschews any hint of flash or ego.

Kelp Dwellers’ debut album Surfacing offers 42 minutes of music spread out over nine instrumental tunes, each one a subtle, mood-enhancing excursion in its own right. While the basic arrangements feature Montgomery on electric tenor guitar and Ellett on bass, the former doubles on electric mandocello, lap steel, and synths, while the latter adds electric 12-string guitar, and both feature on electric six-strings, piano and ebow (lots of ebow). my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The first two tracks are immediately engaging. “Jellyfish Song” rides a lively sequence of repeating electric licks for much of its four minutes, other than an out-of-left-field ambient 30-second bridge. As on several other tunes here, the guys turn to the ebow to generate a whale-song-like tone that makes the listener feel like we’re floating underwater. Then “Winsome Rollers” opens up with some rather surf-influenced riffing that’s quickly subsumed in a rippling melody that in turn is sliced open by a probing electric lead, as the tune gathers a nice head of fusion-y steam.

The midsection of the album features the slightly wonky chords of “Undine’s Righteous Victory”; the suitably luminous “Westward, Mostly Sunny” with its arcing slide notes; the restless “Tricking King Swordfish,” which veers back and forth between playful and foreboding; and “Otter Finley’s,” which feels like the first somewhat nondescript tune on the album, at least until the bridge falls sideways into a haunted dreamscape.

Both of the latter again feature ebow, as does “Watch Out For Water Dog,” which cooks along nicely over a mesmerizing rhythm track, with squiggly electric flourishes and intermittent waves of dreamy, slightly off-kilter ebow lending it that otherworldly feel. Penultimate cut “Selkie Always Seeks” features a looser, more restless foundation and more angular chord structure, with yet more dreamy ebow on top. Very pretty closer “Night Ashore” offers a fresh look, presenting the melody on piano and opening with a deliberate, melodic approach that has almost a Band / Van Morrison feel, though it steadily evolves, with ebow and slide trading notes.

The sonic world the Kelp Dwellers construct on Surfacing is thoroughly engaging, an inventive amalgam of styles that marries jazz-fusion adventurism, surf energy and dynamics, and unhurried, melodic progressive sensibilities. So often instrumental music comes down to the vibe, and the vibe here is both welcoming and expansive, thoughtful and dreamy. My advice is to dive in and let your imagination drift on this album’s tides.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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