Wallflower shares with other vibraphone albums the delicate textures and the sweet, soothing tones that build up harmonies that seem to calmly whisper. But there’s something different too, something that distances it from the works of Masayoshi Fujita or other modern and contemporary composers: a fine eye for pop music and jazz. Julian Loida has synesthesia, which means that he often feels colors and textures when listening to sounds, integrating it into his compositional process as a visual aid into the creation of musical paintings. This means that the vibraphone, while obviously central to the album, is but an instrument for an emotional exploration that includes samples of other, different sounds. The relative rigor of Fujita and others gives way here to the flexibility of gestures, of solely feeling your way through a piece, instead of assembling it. That’s not to say Loida is a lax composer, but that his method nets results that turn the vibraphone’s fragility into an introspective intensity that is rare in music of this kind.
The first half of the album resembles modernist efforts, but its attention to expression over ambience and even narrative turns it into a heartfelt -instead of cerebral- experience. Like pop, it makes repetition the basis for engagement, but like jazz, it stakes in development an expectation of the unique. “Wisterian-Hysteria”, for example, seems to have very subtle volume variations that make the vibraphone sound strong, with a short repeating riff that manages to disperse the tones instead of focusing them, only for them to be picked up by a fast melody that brings them all together into a paradoxically agitated form of meditation. The breaking point comes, however, with “Ashé”, exactly the middle track, which brings together vibraphone and piano, intertwining them in a way that makes the latter’s percussive strength and decisiveness support the more ephemeral sway of the earlier. A beat bursts into the scene by the end of the track, when both instruments briefly meld together and fill the air with a melody you could almost dance to.
The second half is made up of the reverberations of “Ashé”, with tracks like the titular “Wallflower” bringing out the jazz chops to create a play of harmony that is just sensual, that fills your senses with color. Loida, up until this point, has been preparing your imagination for the synesthetic effect with which the music’s been made, and it is in the small-but-significant expressions of the latter part of the record where everything blossoms into place. “Faded Symphony”, with its patient rhythm, grows into a polyphonic wonder of melancholy and contentment, filling your ears with simple brushstrokes that push you to imagine what the color of sadness is, how it is that bliss looks upon your skin, what all these pretty sounds are trying to convey beyond the terms of listening. It’s a very pretty ending to a very pretty album, which, being Loida’s debut, can only be the promise of even greater music to come. (David Murrieta Flores)