Bands, like any relationship, engender compromise, however reluctantly. If one player can't handle a part, the outfit must adjust somehow—swapping instruments, changing the section, simply giving someone space and time to master the necessary technique. Some members veto songs, while others transform them entirely. It's a complicated dance of yes, no and maybe.
North Elementary, the long-running rock crew of John Harrison, isn't dead. But on Know Your Clouds, the second LP from his solo project, Jphono1, he indulges more than he ever has as a bandleader in what have long seemed latent impulses. With Know Your Clouds, Harrison fully inhabits the inspirations and strains that have appeared in his music during the last decade, from the narcotic Spacemen 3 sprawl of "Forever Right Here" to the gliding Elliott Smith-like melancholy of "The Miner Kids."
Harrison revels in the possibilities of shaping sounds into songs here, caring less about structural rigors than rigorously exploring individual ideas. "Wall of Women," for instance, juts quickly from a piano-and-guitar dance to a roaring electric guitar blitz, while Harrison settles into a brief but immersive droning organ wobble for "Step into the Hot Pocket." The brilliant "Don't Freak Out" repeats a sweet little mantra about love before flying from the rails for two minutes, scrambles of noise cutting wide ruts across the simple melody. When he's done with the din, Harrison returns to that starry-eyed refrain: "Now that you're here," he offers, "don't freak out/ just fall in love."
Full-band politics or limitations flung aside, Harrison has favorably taken his own advice.
Label: Potluck Foundation
This article appeared in print with the headline "Song surge."