Equinoxes are those twice-yearly moments when our tilted planet is inclined neither away from nor towards the sun. Ushering in a new season, they remind us of the patterns in both nature and human nature, often inspiring self-reflection and a desire to switch things up.
When Anthony Iamurri set out to make The Most Vernal of Equinoxes, he did so with a similar mindset: reflective, poised for change. Having spent years drumming for punk and hardcore bands, then making solo electronic music (what he describes as “glitchy dance music”), he ultimately decided to tilt away from that sound and toward a more intuitive approach to music-making. In the winter of 2009, he holed up in his apartment and began writing pop songs. Naming his new project Natural Harbors, Iamurri combined breezy pop melodies with experimental, sometimes DIY, instrumentation, including forks on empty glasses and shakers made of assorted grains (rice, barley) in mason jars. Adding in other musicians on various tracks—his brother Joshua on nylon string guitar, Elliot Bergman (Nomo) on saxophone, Trevor Naud (Zoos of Berlin) on electric guitar, and Jacob Daneman (formerly of Mittens on Strings) on clarinet—he achieved a sound that indeed feels natural and effortless, pop-oriented yet dreamily fuzzed out.
Iamurri layers homemade beats and innovative arrangements over buoyant melodies. Like a sheet of translucent vellum or a scrim, these layers create a washed-out texture that enhances each tune rather than obscuring it. Recalling the pop music of the ’50s and ’60s he used to listen to on his dad’s record player as a kid —the Motown and Stax Records catalogs, The Beach Boys, Harry Nilsson, The Kinks—he wanted to re-imagine these sounds by adding elements of the eclectic music he has gotten into since, stuff like Brazilian pop, shoegaze, Tropicália, Italo house and Balearic beat. Experimenting further, he left in various “blips and blaps” that came through in recording, such as the click of his computer’s trackpad or a plosive vocal that peaked out. You may hear an occasional cough or Iamurri affirm his collaborating musicians at the end of one track. (“Nice.”) All this represents an exercise in letting whatever happens happen, recording-wise, which is based on the philosophy of aleatoric music. It’s a refreshingly unselfconscious approach, one that points back to the idea of doing what comes naturally. Speaking of what comes naturally, the title of the album was inspired by the literal arrival of Spring (he recorded the songs through February of 2011).
As much as The Most Vernal of Equinoxes is about revisiting and re-imagining and following one’s creative intuition, it’s also about undoing: the human tendency to stay stuck in a rut, the adult need to over-intellectualize, the bedroom recording artist’s impulse to fly solo. “And it’s just fine that it’s anodyne,” Iamurri sings casually on the opening track, “Makeshift Twilight,” sounding like someone who’s hitting his stride. Indeed, in aligning his talents and an intuitive approach, he seems to have figured out the way he works best. In referencing equinoxes (among other themes), he acknowledges the way we all work: the Earth spins and we spin with it.