One minute into Emulsion, something unexpected happens. After vibraphone, snare drum, and acoustic bass build alongside a lulling piano motif, a breakbeat groove slices through the arrangement. In its wake: a choppy piano loop and thumping, gridline percussion. Despite its early occurrence, this transcendent moment undercuts everything before it. Similar moments follow, ushering the listener into a self-contained climate where incompatible designs become commonplace.
This is the first album for classically trained Australian trumpeter Jonathan Baker, who chooses the Greek word for sunrise as his moniker. ‘Olafur Arnalds lends his endorsement with a guest appearance on “Like Deep Water,” but the sound may come as a surprise: much more electronic than classical. Anatole is acutely aware of the musical junction he occupies. As a scientific concept, emulsion is the process of two normally immiscible liquids successfully mixing together. While threateningly tongue-in-cheek, the concept certainly does explain the simultaneously confounding and borderline mechanic work that Baker explores. For all of the freeform jazz and unorthodox arrangement, Emulsion has a workmanlike aura. Fluctuating between tasteful lounge music and hyper-energetic electronic looping, the record honors the electronic influence of Flying Lotus while being strangely unenthusiastic about psychedelics.
The previously mentioned opener “Medlow Bath” produces an initial shock, but the jarring beat switches soon become hypnotic. Emulsion starts to occur! The first third of the album adheres to a satisfying template, as flutes and vibraphones meld with skittering polyrhythms and lush textures. A wonderful vocal turn from Ida on “Only One” proves the ease in which a simple, pleasant melody can skirt over Anatole’s backdrops. The title track inverts his typical structure with a climactic beginning and a ponderous, unconcerned string outro. The songs fluctuate between drastically different moods, but begin to bleed together into a strong artistic vision.
Baker has said in interviews that he wants his music to reveal itself slowly with each listen. On a level of pure arrangement, he succeeds on a tremendous scale. There is so much to digest sonically that it becomes overwhelming to pick out individual motifs. For instance, the clapping and choppy piano line remain the focal point of “Forest For the Trees” even as frenetic hi hats and warbling synths begin to intrude. The record ultimately becomes an exercise in hidden complexity. Depending on context, Emulsion can either be listened to as serene background music (something Baker would hate) or as a demanding, in-your-face musical statement. When these two listening approaches collide, Emulsion coheres into something beautiful; during the percussion-less climax of “Wring,” synths and strings crash into confrontational, blissful cacophony. (Josh Hughes)