In Phil Torres' cozy Durham home, the recording studio is tucked in the upstairs room to the left; even so, his mind tends to wander when he makes music. A neuroscientist philosopher and texture-obsessed home-recorder, Torres is the brains behind Baobab, a solo-recording venture that turns into a duo with Whitney Trettien onstage. That transfiguration suits the band's study of balances—lo-fi resources meet high-minded ambitions, digital precision supports organic production.
Such juxtapositions fuel Baobab's flourishing electro-folk: Digital flicks and mouth smacks layer into syncopated rhythms beneath easy-does-it melodies, and reverbed vocals melt over out-of-Africana pop tunes. Baobab's self-titled debut was an immersive, vibrant outing, the product of seven years of creating music only for personal exploration. BAYOHBAHB has a different genesis, but it seems no less natural and comfortable as it alternates between adventurous scores and laidback grooves.
Opener "Oceanus Procellarum" feels like the loop behind a Final Fantasy escapade, returning for another level with "Gliese 667 Cc." Torres explores his gentler side with "Merida," a fingerpicked ode to friendship. "Magdalene Street" extends a shot of Paul Simon with a sweet guitar line and percussive clicks and whispers. "Fredrick" is a quick dose of old gospel (odd for a man who wrote the book A Crisis of Faith: Atheism, Emerging Technologies and the Future of Humanity), before "Loh Dalum Bay" explodes with techno-natural charm. Taken together, "The Great Pacific Garbage Patch," "Soufriare, St. Lucia" and "Chincoteague" shape the readymade soundtrack of a not-yet-made Wes Anderson exotica excursion.
Even amid these complex compositions, Torres beckons the listener closer. Meticulous construction doesn't often feel so joyful, just as acoustic guitar doesn't always resound delight. Torres seems assured and accepting of his disjointed whole, and it translates—all the more powerful as the expression of a single man, tucked into his cozy spare room and dreaming up melodies.
Label: Hand Eye Records
This article appeared in print with the headline "Fresh efforts."