Brooklyn-based CrystalTop Music reached out to its extended network and brought together eleven beautiful gems from eleven different artists for CrystalTop Music Presents. But drawing a line through the sounds collected under the banner of CrystalTop Music is an exercise that's more likely to result in beautiful scribbles and loops than in a legible graph. "Diverse" barely begins to sketch the range. In fact, the common element shared by these artists may be the absence of a stylistic bag that can comfortably hold them; all the songs seem to reach for some sound that doesn't fit into easy black and white categories.
This is partly an act of curation, so that Pyeng Threadgill's soul-jazz take on Bill Withers and The Dang-it Bobbys' country-rock joint, "Say Goodbye" talk to each other in ways they might not if you encountered them separately. But mostly it's something that happens within the songs themselves. The heart of "Say Goodbye" is a soaring southern rock chorus worthy of The Allman Brothers, yet restless enough to wander off into Stevie Wonder-ish chord changes that speak of doo-wop. "Foreign Country" is the lyrical conceit of Christina Courtin's sharp but melancholy love song — but also a subliminal self-description of grass a slightly different shade of blue, a moody ballad that finds its down-home abroad. Even the afrobeat of Martón Perna's Ocote Soul Sounds has a Deep Purple heaviness, and elsewhere on this collection the spirits of Norah Jones, Pink Floyd, Carlos Santana and Radiohead are all channeled in unexpected ways.
Some of this is the natural eclecticism of well-crafted music, the ease with which serious players have always traded licks in spite of genre boundaries. But if phrases and ideas seem to jump more freely, over greater divides, on CTM Presents it's because CrystalTop is not a studio-generated fiction but a clique of artists sharing six degrees of connection on stage and on record — in some cases the spokes on this wheel have known each other from school days, maybe even ran together as graffiti artists hitting up crystal-top buses. The music they make with each other reflects a generation who have come up with the self-segregated logic of rap and rock and ultimately rejected or outgrown it. It's a new approach, but also a throwback in some ways to a certain moment of 70s utopianism, not because it's self-consciously "retro," but because it's the sound of a generation of 70s harmony babies and 80s zebraheads coming of age with a boom. The result is a brand new bag.