By Tyler Francischine
What could possibly be more boring than the drive north up I-75? No matter how many hours have passed, the inland roadside scenery remains the same. Oak, pine, oak, pine, anti-abortion billboard, oak, pine.
But wait! There is an antidote for this interminable ennui.
Step one: pop in Canned Music, the sophomore album from Parisians-turned-Floridians Pearl & The Oysters.
Step two: deeply exhale and loosen those shoulders into a gentle shimmy.
With wistful lyrics — which paint impressionistic portraits of the sea and sippable fizz — sung over dreamy melodies and tight rhythms, Canned Music creates a groovy state of mind, transporting you far, far away from your current surroundings.
Pearl & The Oysters will celebrate the release of Canned Music with a live show Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Wooly, 20 N. Main St. Joining them are fellow Florida acts Edmondson and Dirtbike and Baltimore’s Ami Dang.
Juliette Davis and Joachim Polack, the creative duo behind Pearl & The Oysters, say the album title reclaims a term once used to disparage the pre-recorded music that accompanied the first “talkie” films of the 1920s. Canned Music is intended as an act of aural communion between mechanical speaker and human listener.
“Movies used to have live organ accompaniment in the theaters, but now music was pumped into metal speakers. It gave the sound a tinny quality, hence ‘canned.’ The term meant the music was pre-packaged for you,” Polack explains. “Canned Music was designed as a phonographic experience, not something we try to recreate on stage, just like pop albums of the 1960s emphasized the fact that they were designed as records, not as recordings of live performances.”
From album opener “Water-Lily Waltz,” which pays homage to a rhythm most popular in Vienna in the 1780s, to veritable freak out “I Fantasmi Di Pompei” to the soulful smoothness of “Mercury Comet Caliente,” Pearl’s sophomore record journeys through pop, rock, jazz, R&B, doo wop and surf to pay homage to the limitless catalog of recorded music.
Davis and Polack have long been influenced by prog-pop of the 1970s and early electronic music of the 1950s and 1960s. Their sound signature, which they debuted on 2017’s With Pearl and the Oysters, combines straight-forward pop structures with textured, electronic bleeps and bloops, leaving listeners feeling like they’re in outer space, underwater, or maybe both.
Canned Music maintains that signature while taking more nods from R&B and jazz than the pair’s previous release. Emboldened by the recent trend of indie musicians combining jazz sensibilities with pop structures, Davis and Polack finally feel they can explore their sound without retaining the jazzophile label previously slapped on their output.
“It’s liberating to notice that it’s not uncool anymore to bring jazz stuff into pop. A lot of indie musicians – Mild High Club, Mac Demarco, Vulfpeck – are receiving attention for precisely that,” Polack says. “Those bands are turning kids on to jazz and funk. It’s a strange phenomenon, and it feels great.”
But, as Davis notes, she and Polack have been crafting their idiosyncratic blend of jazz, R&B and pop long before it was cool.
“This is the music that has always been a part of us,” she says.
Lyrically, Canned Music takes listeners on a journey through the pair’s adopted home: the sunshine state. This isn’t the Florida constantly lampooned by the media for the lawless actions of a select few of our residents. To Davis and Polack, Florida is a fantastic planet dotted with swamps and beaches of wondrous beauty.
As Davis conceptualizes the album’s narrative arc, “You start in the swamps, waking up from the place where your spaceship has just crashed. You hear the swarming of tropical bugs and animals all around you. Once you get the spaceship back on track, it goes in and out of the water, discovering the different landscapes of Florida.”
“We make our music with synthesizers, computers and machines, but we imitate organic sounds, the rich sounds of nature,” Polack says. “It’s our conception of Florida as a foreign, unexplored planet.”
Recorded in four different home studios in Gainesville, Florida, with overdubs traveling from across the U.S., France and Italy, Canned Music is a labor of love among good friends. Album contributors include Vulfpeck guitarist Cory Wong, Alex Brettin of Mild High Club, Fitness Forever’s Carlos Valderrama, David Levesque of Levek, Davis’s father and percussionist Jean-Michel Davis, as well as members of New Orleans’ Room Thirteen and Gainesville’s Sunmoonstar and Euglossine.
“The musicians featured on the album influence us in creating music, so it was amazing to acknowledge them by having them play with us,” Polack says.
When writing Canned Music, Davis says she and Polack were thinking beyond our atmosphere in creating upbeat songs that produce a sense of delight in listeners.
“If aliens saw the earth from afar, I’d like them to see there’s also positive, beautiful stuff here that makes people happy,” she says. “The earth is in very bad shape right now. We need to hold onto each other and keep making art to keep the flame of human creativity lit.”