Black Mountain's Seth Kauffman has been making some of the most charming lo-fi rock around for five years at this point. Funky and fuzzy, his gems bounce on muscular bass lines and sway with rough-and-ready Basement-Taped harmonies. What's more, Kauffman carries most of the load for his recorded work himself, playing, singing and producing almost every note.
Desert Etiquette, his fourth album and second under the Floating Action moniker, again finds him more on his own. Everything apart from one pedal steel fill was put to tape by Kauffman in a frenzied 48 hours. Despite its extreme solo nature, Etiquette is also his fullest, most absorbing yet. Ever a master of creating warm, layered tracks, this time Kauffman allows the elements of his production to move. Harmonies wander through the mix, surrounding you, only to depart suddenly. It's a tempered record with songs mostly moving at ambling tempos, but wild elements cut through. Kauffman subtly manipulates sonic textures in a hypnotic pop landscape, sometimes in jarring ways.
The vagabond ballad "Rincon" is propelled by confident upright bass and washboard, but it warbles with vocal reverb and dreamy slide guitar that undulate like a desert mirage. "Modern Gunslinger" pairs crunchy riffs and horns with thumb piano, an unlikely combination that pops with effervescent joy. Best of all is luxurious R&B slow-burner "The Balance." As steady bass keeps things moving, clouds of processed sitar flit woozily behind sharp cuts of electric guitar.
It's indeed balance that makes Desert Etiquette work. For every left-field sound there's a solid groove or melody to keep you grounded. The result is an adventurous, yet comfortably familiar, excursion, a colorful musical expanse that's worth more than a few trips.