“Variations” on a Theme

"Variations in the Key of the Afterlife" may just be ready-made for film

Producer Luke Henshaw and Gabe Serbian (of the Locust, Zu), who's been lauded as one of the best drummers around, have released an instrumental album, "Variations in the Key of the Afterlife" -- and it's a laid-back, cosmic ride full of mellow grooves and space funk.

If there's a sliding scale of modern instrumental musicians and albums -- with Brian Eno on the far left, the sample-based work of producers like DJ Shadow and his "Endtroducing....." debut in the middle, and the prog-rock efforts of a band like Tortoise with their "TNT" album at the far right -- that's where "Variations in the Key of the Afterlife" would fit, with songs that unfold, dissolving from didgeridoos into slow-rolling strings and from subtle synth lines into bleeding horns [listen here].

They're in pocket though, so even when they are exploring, they're still going somewhere. There's no wandering; they don't get sidetracked. Ideas are developed, toyed with, then resolved. They get in then get right back out.

If Brian Eno was making music for airports, then Henshaw and Serbian are making songs for soundtracks. Full of rhythmic head-nodders, cinematic and big, with titles like "Orbital Sequence" and "The Chase Scene," "Variations" seems ready-made for a film.

And just like any good movie follows a story arch -- conflict, climax, conclusion -- "Variations" follows a similar model, with the sleepy haze of "Drifting Back Home" closing out the album. It's quiet, calm and chill; the perfect backdrop as credits roll.

J. Smith, aka 1019, is a San Diego native, rap fan and one half of the rap duo Parker & the Numberman. You can follow him on Instagram at 1019_the_numberman or on Twitter

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