Please ignore the label "alternative R&B" posted at the top of this review: This hotly touted Detroit-based duo would rather you call what they do "cosmic- trap", as "a genre is a cosmic trap at the end of the day", they explained in an interview.
The statement is, of course, said tongue-in-cheek. Josh Freed and Josh Smith are two 23-year-old childhood buddies who are making music that reflects the au courant hybridisation of strands from, yes, alternative R&B to pop to techno with a dollop of psychedelia.
They list disparate acts such as Otis Redding, Little Richard and Outkast as influences, which simultaneously clarify and intrigue. Everything is fair game - past, present and future.
"Wanna let it go! Wanna let it go!" Smith avers in a woebegone voice in Waves, the opening track of their debut EP, Window. The song begins with slow, creeping steps, a la the mid-1990s trip-hop grandeur of Massive Attack's Better Things, before the pace picks up and it becomes a soulful, trippy ballad with reverbed guitars rubbed against slicked-up funk synths, with Smith's voice sounding dunked in water. Elsewhere, an Afrobeat riff rings in the air.
It sounds like the morning after, as if The Weeknd's Abel Tesfaye has finally found redemption after a debauched night in a discotheque.
The effortless shape-shifting is symbolic of their globe-trotting experience, first meeting as children in a camp in Ontario, then meeting again in the University of Michigan as room-mates and, finally, spending time in Paris.
The title track, Window, is underscored by a near-imperceptible bassline that could have been ripped from the rule book of Air, the smooth-as-Vaseline downtempo band from Versailles. The best bits come towards the end of the song, as a louche electric guitar riff plays footsie with snare-drum F/X in a stark environment.
Such intuitive juxtaposition of dark and light, slow and brisk, pays off handsomely in two sensuous tracks. Smoke Bellow is slinky house, with Smith half-rapping, half-slurring like a lovesick Lothario. Prints sojourns into the garage rock soul terrain, with funky dominatrix synths and a Tex-Mex rattlesnake F/X, and Smith intoning like a long-lost cousin of The Black Keys.
They are innocent and menacing, familiar yet freaky too. Child, for instance, sounds like classic heart-on-sleeve soul balladry by way of the boiler room.
By the time one comes to the last track, all bets are off.
Vietnam Junkie oozes such strange goodness. The mutant dub-soul oddity appears like an otherworldly visitation, as if the fabulous folkronica band The Beta Band have reformed on Mars and made their way to Earth.