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Archie Pelago – Sly Gazabo EP

While Archie Pelago have been dilligently releasing EPs on a triad of international labels since 2011, it was last year’s release on Mister Saturday Night that seemed to catapult the Brooklyn trio into a heightened spotlight. Dan Hirshorn, Greg Heffernan and Zach Koeber have certainly made good use of the exposure, gaining exponential accolades with this winter’s Subway Gothic / Ladymarkers EP on Well Rounded Individuals, a stunningly complicated live recording session on Mary Anne Hobbs’ XFM Show and a slew of well-received remixes and re-workings.

Archie Pelago - Sly Gazabo EP
Archie Pelago
Sly Gazabo EP
Archie Pelago Music
12", digital
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Still, without minimizing the importance of all their past contributions, everything feels like a lead-up to the inaugural release on their self titled record label, the Sly Gazabo EP. It’s a record that achieves two very different things: It’s the most animated, danceable record that the trio have created to date, and it’s the best distillation yet of the vibrancy, collaboration and improvisation that distinguish their live performances.

As an act merging electronic music with live classical instrumentation, duality’s been a central selling point of Archie Pelago since the beginning: Their productions are electronic yet organic;  instruments get chopped up, repurposed and looped through Ableton, but there’s a fullness to the live sounds that computerized instruments can’t recreate. As classically trained musicians, Koeber and Heffernan are skilled at complicated improvisational patterns (both additionally have a hand in crafting the beats, textures and sequencing of the tracks) yet songs maintain a semblance of the body-controlling, impulsively danceable rhythms that define house music. And while “Sly Gazabo” checks in at sixteen minutes, it never feels as if you’re sitting through a bourgeoisie lecture on music theory: you can feel the dusty grit of Brooklyn sidewalks crunching underfoot and smell the still-drying subway graffiti swirling around everything the trio touches.

“Avocado Roller” is a perfect example of this, managing to sound raw and tender in equal measure, and showing how danceable live saxophone can sound when immersed in a frantic pattern of beautifully plucked nylon acoustic strings, humming female vocals and shimmering electronic undercurrents. Though there are lingering traces of the found-sound experimentation that groups like The Books have used in their productions, turntablist Dan Hirshorn keeps the track firmly grounded in a rhythmic framework. The track’s real skill is how naturally it unfurls; beginning as little more than an ambient thump, the intermingling sounds gel so cohesively into dance music that it’s tough to tell when exactly you started tapping your feet to it.

The only moment when the Sly Gazabo EP may confuse instead of enlighten is during “Nancy’s Library” – while it will certainly make you jealous of Greg Heffernan’s aptness for playing the cello, the clicking, snapping percussion that soundtracks his instrument keeps its distance from the other sounds. It’s the only time on the EP where organic and electronic elements feel at odds with each other in an unintended way. As the shortest track on the EP, it’s possible that the group would have been able to give it additional cohesiveness if it were extended by a minute or two.

While “In The Room” begins with a somewhat recognizable house beat in its opening bass-laden seconds, the anthemic cello line that dominates the track is the showstopper here – tinged in melancholy but propulsive enough that when it cuts out halfway through, you immediately begin anticipating its return in the swelling crescendo of the track. While fellow Mister Saturday Night alumni Alex Burkat stirred similar emotions with his violin-laden “Shower Scene” track, the level of technical prowess that Archie Pelago employ leading up to the track’s finale is almost baffling; a testament to each member’s intricate sense of timing and pace. Though the panicked bass drops of previous tracks like “Subway Gothic” are absent here, it’s still a powerful, creative, crafty dance floor weapon of a track.

It’s tempting to say that “In The Room” might be the group’s magnum opus, except for the fact that “Sly Gazabo” is almost sixteen minutes long, and accomplishes more in that time than most humans achieve in a week, running a gauntlet of everything from frenzied droplets of juke-like percussion to slower ambient moments that make you dream about Archie Pelago and Arthur Russell sharing a stage together. Described by Heffernan as “what we believe in musically, and what we feel is possible in making electronic music,” there are moments whenthe collective’s electronics all but swallow the other components of the track, leaving only charred ashes of the original sound, and there are times when the very human side of Archie Pelago manifests itself in slight imperfections and improvisational motions that spiral into tangents of freeform unpredictability.

Watching the aforementioned Mary Ann Hobbs live session online gives a clue to Archie Pelago’s perpetually-in-sync nature: As they play, you can see the members making brief eye contact with each other with those near-telekinetic talents that skilled improvisers possess, as if confirming what’s about to come next. Given the fact that an ever-increasing number of eyes are on Archie Pelago, it only makes sense that they’re looking at each other as well.

Brendan Arnott


A1. Avocado Roller (feat Becca Stevens)
A2. In The Room
B1. Sly Gazabo
B2.Nancy’s Library (feat 5150 Sound)