Oakland-based jazz student Alexi Erenkov was beginning to grow tired of jazz, feeling it did not offer him the right avenues for expression he was after. Joined by his wife Alison who handles percussion, the husband and wife duo released their first album Songs of the Saxophones alongside welcoming their first child into the world in 2018. This sophomore release, naturally, coincides with their second child. The pensive tone that holds these tracks together feels much informed by the onset of parenthood. “My music has always grappled with mortality and the meaning of existence,” states Alexi, “but the birth of our first son and the imminent arrival of our second has greatly heightened my sensitivity to these themes.” While jazz influences certainly play into the palette of The Saxophones’ sound, they are equally inspired by dream pop and twee indie rock such as that of Yo La Tengo.
The lead single “Lamplighter” as a jazz-folk hybrid is a perfect summation of The Saxophones’ songwriting approach. Lyrical saxophone lines sweep over gentle guitar arpeggios and sweet vocals from Alexi. “Life is short but it takes so long to explain my point of view,” Alexi states with a relaxed tone of voice. While light and easy on the ear, the band avoids settling too into the saccharine. Allison takes her time working into the mix – waiting until the end to really work in her sweet but affecting percussion. The atmosphere the duo creates feels as if it exists in between Chet Baker and the indie charm of early 2000s’ Wilco.
“New Taboo” is more subdued. Warm and understated harmonies swirl around floating basslines and droning keys. “Forgot My Mantra” is equally stripped down. With Alexi’s rounded voice, The Saxophones are reaching for an elemental quality that wouldn’t be too lost on fans of Van Morrison.
“Take My Fantasy”, one of the more pure jazz cuts on the record, has a true Brubeckian feel to it. Jazz chords comp over Allison’s galloping percussion. Some light soloing comes in and out but never demands too much attention away from the rest of the recording. The vocals here are discernibly wet, which is a problem throughout Eternity Bay. Produced by Cameron Spies, the band goes for a minimalist yet spacious sound, going heavy on the reverb. This can often yield revelatory results, just look at Slowdive, but here it often feels like the band are trading in honed songwriting for a perceived dreaminess.
“Anymore” injects elements of both dream pop and surf rock, coming off as a cross between Real Estate and The War on Drugs with a Mac DeMarco-esque delivery. Allison goes heavy on the toms while also making an interesting decision to prominently feature what sounds like a wood block. A catchy triplet guitar lick plays a major role here. “Zendo” is a quick, ethereal ballad. Tepid in nature, it feels more like an interlude carried by subtle woodwinds and quiet guitar strums.
“Flower Spirit” moves with a calming stride. While The Saxophones have already demonstrated their affinity for minimalism, this is sparse even for their standards. Alexi, distant in the mixing here, sounds comparable to Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox. This unnoticeably bleeds in the weightless love ballad “Living in Myth” as the second half of this album begins to lag and feel like variances on the same songwriting strategy.
“You Fool” is the brightest track on the album with a bouncy bassline. The duo’s harmonising calls and responds with circling flute flourishes. While low in the mix, the track is anchored by some rhythmic guitar. The album ends with the title track. A familiar sound, this feels like it could have been a revival of an early folk standard. It’s hymn-like with its simple melody. Although not all that exciting, it is at least pleasant on a first couple listens.
Eternity Bay is a fine listen, one that is relaxing and charming but will be easy to tune out. The songs, while none are outright bad, are ultimately nondescript outside of a few choice cuts. At times the record feels monotonous, which could be fixed on a third album if The Saxophones were to expand their sonic diversity. While the band works with some intriguing textures and instrumental colours, it is often at the expense of the songwriting. These tracks, at their most basic form, are not entirely interesting on their own merit.
Eternity Bay is released Friday 6th March via Full Time Hobby.