Miles Tones, the first new release from General Fuzz since 2008, should come with a disclaimer that listening to it may cause euphoria and widespread outbreaks of generally feeling pretty good. Employing side musicians on guitar, strings, trumpet and more, James Kirsch douses his listeners with a deep blend of New Age, electronic jazz and post-rock that hits and sticks, track after downright pleasant track. It’s got the laid-back ease of lounge, but shot through with a strong emotional honesty that’s a major part of its allure. “First Steps” makes for a fine introduction. Twinkling glockenspiel keys like a child’s music box start it off. Acoustic guitar and a sharp tattoo on snare ease in, setting the stage for soaring, wordless vocals from Audio Angel. (She reappears on “Return Value” like a funkier, grittier sister to Clare Torry from Pink Floyd’s “Great Gig in the Sky.”) A piano bass line that to my ears comes away like a slight homage to Pachebel’s Canon rounds out the sound. From there it just gets tight, happy and cool. Latch onto those three words for the remainder of this disc because that’s what you’re getting. Hit “The Jam” and you’ll be courted by Ryan Avery’s lush violin work before Josh Clark of Tea Leaf Green steps in to light up the room with a hot guitar solo. JP Cutler and Emiel Stopler add more guitar into the mix. This may be my favorite track here. Kirsch lays down a snappy glitch-style beat for his musicians to work with, and they run with it. (One of his preferred working styles is to put forth a structure and let his guests riff over it as they will.) “The Gorge” heads for the jazz side of the street, electric piano playing off bubbly sequencer as Phoebe Jevotvic Alexander lays in vocals. “Slow March” is an intensely emotional piece. It feels like the slow arrival of something positive in the wake of a hard decision. There are undertones of sadness, amplified by Avery’s strings and Jessie Ivry’s cello playing a gorgeous duet, but Peter Medland’s trumpet arrives in smiling counterpoint, singing a silky line and growing consistently jazzier as the track moves along. An amazing track.
Maybe it seems like a reviewer shortcut to say that Miles Tones is a pleasure to listen to, but two things: 1) It just is. The takeaway as the last track fades is that you’re finishing on a high note. You’re uplifted and a little invigorated. This release is a mood enhancer, plain and simple. And 2), it’s clear that it was Kirsch’s pleasure to create this. It’s a very personal-feeling disc. If the twinkly tones in “First Steps” and “Arrival” aren’t there as a tip of the hat to Kirsch’s baby boy, I’ll eat my reviewer hat. The honesty I mentioned above virtually drips off the music; you’re being invited in and Kirsch hopes you’ll stay a while. The thing about Miles Tones is that it feels both quite personal and yet widely universal. James Kirsch has created this as a gift to himself, but he is sharing it with you.
Available as a free download at the General Fuzz web site.