The Inflatable Leviathan is difficult, bizarre, and an absolute joy. Beyond all the intricate interplays and wild sound maps, this quartet of Sean Ali, Michael Foster, Cecilia Lopez, and Eli Wallace bring humor and fun. The mountains of chemistry flow between them, allowing a vulnerability to bleed through. It takes The Inflatable Leviathan from being an excellent assemblage of sounds to an unforgettable sonic adventure.
Lopez’s synthesizer guides this ship onto the surface of an unimaginable world in the opening moments of “Stratosphere.” Amidst walls of growling sax and eye-scratching bass, the electronic whirrs offer a surprising familiarity. Exploring the reaches of the encompassing space, The Inflatable Leviathan splatters into “Mesosphere,” where pointillist piano notes and wheezing electronics scatter into the emotive breeze of Foster’s saxophone. The open spaces are invitations for immersing ourselves in these angular soundscapes with the spatial spread somehow simultaneously expansive and intimate.
Throughout The Inflatable Leviathan, time bends toward an obscure point that only the ensemble can sense. When I close my eyes, I am lost in the undulating sketches of inquisitive aural silhouettes. It’s as though ghosts are peering across the liminal plane, dancing to these secret, spectral phases. “Thermosphere” sparkles in the lithe back-and-forth waltz between Ali and Foster while Lopez distills the phantom visitors into stretches of electronic squall. Wallace is often the unheralded star, though, twisting piano timbres into alien reverences, spiky sonic tendrils reaching out, connecting each disparate thread. It’s a wild ride, but the joyousness is in the unknowable steps ahead.
It’s hard to imagine musicians of this caliber creating anything less than magic, but even with those expectations, The Inflatable Leviathan is massive. Lopez’s squalid electronics are the textural center, the odd-shaped waveforms that press the album into strange, wonderful zones. Foster can play with numerous techniques, and the breadth of sound he wields from his alto and tenor saxophones is mind-boggling. When he and Lopez spit out cataclysmic frequencies on closer “Exosphere,” Ali and Wallace have no choice but to throw more fuel on the growing fire. Until the bitter end, they push each other in new directions, and this music never lets up. Sounds blow up, and The Inflatable Leviathan keeps vacuuming up the granular bits.