- Xander Naylor, Continuum
(Chant Records, CD, digital)
I was at a house party in 2008 with some bandmates. It was a pretty tame affair for the most part, but a failure to ask the important questions led me to ingest a rather robust mushroom chocolate. Long story short: I suddenly no longer desired the company of other humans. So my iPod and I took a walk around the city that lasted what seemed like days, listening to music that turned to colors before my eyes.
Now, I'm not claiming guitarist and composer Xander Naylor's new album Continuum gave me full-on flashbacks, but when the sax break hits about three minutes into opening track "Lunar Acropolis," I started to feel the walls breathe a little. Don't even get me started on the freak-out at the end of "Pursuit." For those actually under an influence, I can see that moment being very similar to the psychedelic boat ride in the 1971 version of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.
Naylor, a Vermont native, left the Green Mountains for New York City to study his craft years ago. He earned a degree in jazz performance and studied classical North Indian Hindustani music under tabla master Samir Chatterjee. Along with touches of progressive rock, he deftly integrates those disciplines into his compositional and guitar playing styles to create a striking sound.
While 2018's Transmission made expert use of that fusion, Naylor has ascended to another level with Continuum. From start to stop, the record zigs and zags, never resting on a single feel or style, never staying too long in a groove, and never allowing the listener to get comfortable. In many ways, Naylor's fluid compositions can feel like particularly frank discussions.
And that's partly the idea. In an email to Seven Days, Naylor explained that his record is "about breaking through the barriers of digital screens and facing others eye-to-eye." That notion manifests in his riveting, almost confrontational music.
"Surrender" is an apt example. The tune starts with a pensive, slow-burn buildup that explodes into a frenetic powerhouse that would be at home on a Mars Volta record. By song's end, though, it is all serene beauty once more.
Naylor enlists some serious talent on Continuum. Along with his touring lineup of drummer Raphael Pannier, bassist Nicholas Jozwiak and alto saxophonist Elijah Shiffer, the composer brings in a crew of gifted NYC luminaries. Among them, Alec Spiegelman (Amanda Palmer, Anaïs Mitchell) contributes baritone sax, Body Language's Angelica Bess lays down guest vocals, and Alex Asher (Beyoncé, John Brown's Body) supplies trombone. The album is full of virtuosi and creative provocateurs, and Naylor harnesses their talents for an album that simultaneously tweaks the mind and moves the body.
By the final song, "Leverage," a pulsating prog-rock-style banger with stabbing horns, whirlwind drumming and wild guitar work from Naylor, I started debating my now decade-long ban on taking hallucinogens — which, frankly, would pair with Continuum like red wine with a nice pasta dish. The good news is that Naylor's music does so much lifting, a chemical assist is not needed.
Continuum is available at xandernaylor.bandcamp.com.