Photo by Chris Ballenger
From his early days drumming in The Comas, John Harrison has grown into a consummate veteran of the N.C. scene. Between stints as co-songwriter and bandleader in North Elementary he’s carved out a prolific visual arts portfolio, and regularly shows in galleries around the Triangle. As one of three founders of the collective label, Potluck Foundation, he helps shepherd a far reaching community of musicians who consistently turn out quality releases. If that wasn’t enough to keep one person busy, he’s also recently taken a swan dive into improvisational electronic music as one half of Tacoma Park. Yet, like some kind of time warping wizard, John regularly manages to turn out releases as Jphono1 both solo and with his pals, The Chevrons. It is in these two modes that John Harrison explores his sonic space. At once as a solo astronaut galloping on horseback through some stellar landscape, and also as the leader of a crew of heady pirates sailing dusty vinyl seas.
The solo releases of Jphono1 show a tinkerer twisting and warping the expectations of what a pop song should be. Early Jphono1 albums are a head trip of tracks that blend banjitar ragas with drum machines and synth fueled space explorations. Drums and fuzzed out guitars mingle with back porch picking, and songs stretch past their pop confines into instrumental explorations. Melodies twist and turn through loping loops then dissolve into the ether. At other times, like on “Loblolly Boogie,” John sheds some of the experimentation and decoration in exchange for air and clarity. Like the titular tree, the songs on “Loblolly Boogie” stand tall and let themselves be swayed by the atmosphere, giving you space to meander among them. This sense of patient exploration is what really ties the Jphono1 solo experience together, both on stage and on record.
If Jphono1 solo is patient and mindful, then records with the band are ecstatic and expansive. With trusty friends by his side, John illuminates and elucidates inside-out songs with succinct riffs and rhythms. Jphono1 and band turn up with a bit more grit and less concern for stylistic constraints. They can vacillate between jazzy passages, Latin-inspired percussion breakdowns, krauty riff rock, and giddy mushroom high hooks. As the band has spent more time playing together, they’ve become more comfortable stretching out their improvisational legs, and the tracks on band albums reflect this jammy bent. Some songs sprawl well past the five minute mark, and become their own little world. The length, however, doesn’t come across as indulgent. Instead it sounds like a group of musicians who trust one another enough to know when to let it ride. Whether live or on album, it’s clear that Jphono1 are as excited about having fun on their journey as they are about finding their destination.
WE ALL BELONG TO SOMETHING ELSE
CD / Digital
INVISIBLE FUTURES & MAKE BELIEVE PASTS
CD / Digital
LOW KEY COMPANION
CD / Digital