Robert Gomez's first album, 2001's Robert Gomez Trio, was an entirely competent but not particularly exciting jazz guitar instrumental showcase. The follow-up, 2005's Etherville, is so completely different that you might suspect that it's actually by an unrelated artist with the same name: this is vocal-centered indie pop with surprisingly little guitar. What accounts for the change? Perhaps the influence of Gomez's old bandmate Norah Jones, who lends typically lustrous harmonies to the shimmering opening track, "Happiness Today," but this album also has little to do with Jones' country-inflected cocktail jazz-pop. Instead, think of Elliott Smith or Michael Penn's melodic melancholy, mixed with some of Lisa Germano's depressive dream pop: keyboards, strings, and shimmering acoustic rhythm guitars are at the heart of these largely minor-key songs, with all manner of obscure and artsy noises around the edges. (Beck's Sea Change and Wilco's A Ghost Is Born are also handy touchstones.) Although the album has a delightfully enveloping sound and mood, individual songs sometimes lack the lyrical strength to match, which makes them tend to bleed together a bit. Overall, however, the aptly titled Etherville has a pleasantly miasmic quality that makes it a low-key gem. So, contemporary jazz trio, followed by ambient neo-psychedelia -- perhaps Gomez should try Scandinavian death metal next.
by Stewart Mason