On his last record as Jphono1, 2013's Know Your Clouds, John Harrison built songs and atmospheric miniatures around moments recorded during his at-home guitar jams, ranging from wide-awake-at-3-a.m. ruminations à la Elliott Smith to instrumentals both intimate and charmingly kitchen-sink-y. If a singing saw would work, he'd use one. The process was more important than the product.
On Time in the Chevron, that fragmentary feel is absent. In collaboration with a pair of multi-instrumentalists for the first time in his solo career, Harrison's seven-song album is focused and fully realized, revealing new dimensions and shadings to the intimations of his previous singles and long players.
It pulls you in quickly. The deep thick slide lick that anchors the opening "Codes" has a note that at first feels out of place, but as the figure cycles through, the feeling is of a forge heating up. When Harrison's voice enters at an oblique angle, it's like light poking through thickets. The refrain of "You're much brighter now" could almost be Harrison singing to himself as he brushes aside some of the gauze of previous efforts and lets his songs stand out in riveting bold relief.
While Harrison's earlier work may have been served by being assembled piecemeal by its maker, the spirited rhythm section of John W. Jaquiss and Patrick O'Neill provides the aural heft required to echo the lush records that provide inspiration here: the earthy slide guitar and Indian tunings of Led Zeppelin III; the pastoral, sighing melancholy of mid-period Pink Floyd; the "pretty daze" sensibility of Kurt Vile and the War on Drugs. Harrison's bemused but reassuring authority, exquisite taste in riffs, and ability to write lyrics that suit the celestial sprawl of the music convey just the right amount of trippy wisdom.
With its multiple beguiling guitar lines and a damnably catchy deadpan chorus full of lysergic perplexity, "Feedback Is Strange" provides one of the most arresting moments. Its lyric "What I feel/I can't say" echoes another Harrison, The Beatles' George, who said as much in "What Is Life." Still, the musical spirits summoned here tend to come from less well-trodden precincts: "The Dog That's Listening" seems to repurpose a motif from the deep and devastating Floyd track "Fearless." Likewise, the casual harmonies on ""House Built on Mercury" are redolent with Meat Puppets, key figures in incorporating psychedelic sounds into indie music of the eighties.
Harrison does allow himself a few deep jams. But just as the guitar solo in "Castles" threatens to get a bit noodly, there's a blissful vocal turn and a return to the central chiseled lick that anchors the piece. On the final, lengthiest track, "Upside Down," Harrison seems to address the listener directly: "And we turn it upside down and we gave it all away," he sings, like a man about to scatter his intricate sand mandala off into the ether with a puff of breath, his commitment to process intact after all.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Ready Refinement"