The architect behind this project is multi-instrumentalist Sam Christopher, who has played with such local acts as Young Hunter, Ohioan and Sutcliffe Catering Co. The focus here is on outsider folk-rock with a perceptible avant-jazz approach.
Christopher's engaging vocals, slightly slurred and slightly buried in the mix to spooky effect, create an attractive buzz, but he can also sing prettily in the high register, maybe a little like Jeff Buckley. Some of the five extended songs on this album evince the possible influence of such artists as Nick Drake, John Martyn or, more contemporarily, Devendra Banhart.
But there is something more here: The album's swelling momentum and poetic lyricism, its piled-on wash of sound, delicate bells and occasional shards of guitar feedback comprise a unique quilt of artful noise. Oni—which was mastered by Fugazi's Brendan Canty—is an album of uncommon sounds and sensuous beauty, to which curious listeners will return repeatedly.
You get the feeling these songs were composed in advance and then used as the framework for structured improvisations, most notably the centerpiece, the 15-minute "Dance of the Bee," in which Christopher's trancelike moans float above a chamber rock concoction of acoustic guitar, piano, violin and cello. Similar instrumentation is employed on "The Place That Created Itself."
There's lots of room for Christopher and his collaborators to stretch out, too. The most arresting track is the nine-minute "Be Feminine (#28)," which features guest Mike Barnett on guitar, a pair of saxophones and clarinet. Maybe a little scary, infused with Velvet Underground-style drones, it's like a dream that you don't want to end.