I saw Norman staple Mike Hosty play his standing gig at The Deli for the last time Sunday night. Halfway through my reminiscence-laden evening, he played the excellent “In The Future All Music Will Be Made By Robots.” (Noting its quality is somewhat redundant — 90% of his songs are awesome.) But currently, all music is made by humans, at least at some original level. This is important to note when considering Joshua Stamper’s Interstitials.
The idiosyncratic horns and strings of these nine songs make them better described as compositions. The odd dissonances and polyrhythms are strongly related to improvisational groups like Fight the Big Bull and vaguely reminiscent of highly orchestrated songwriters Sufjan Stevens (the fluttery saxes on “Honeychild”) and Dirty Projectors. But Stamper isn’t freestyling. The songs may sound completely random at times, but they were forethought by a human. (Read also: Not a robot.)
While Stamper sounds rather unplanned at times, these tunes reside in (an unusual corner of) the songwriter ballpark. While “Wake, Worried Sleeper, Wake” will overflow the boundaries of the average listener’s musical tastes, it still has a tender heart beating at its center. Stamper’s gentle voice, never completely given fully to melody, strikes a nice balance between the halves of his speak/sing delivery. His horns and strings never sound rough or gruff.
The title track is anchored by a repeated acoustic guitar bit, while the vocal melody of “Well” is almost catchy. “Arbor” sounds like a meandering cross between Jack Johnson strum and sonorous Low Anthem horns. But there, and especially in “Incredible People,” the difficult balance of pop sentiments (Stamper played bass on Danielson’s latest album) and composer’s moves creates a tension that sometimes feels like a man with a particularly dry humor trying to write playful, fun music.
That’s why the two best pieces almost entirely give over to classical music. The acoustic guitar and voice of “Press” prove that Stamper’s off-kilter rhythmic and melodic ideas don’t apply just to horns, while the instrumental “Away My Sin,” with its beautiful french horns, is the most transcendent piece here.
Interstitials is an oddly compelling release that introduced me to a creative, thoughtful composer. Whether Stamper will focus his attentions on pop, “classical” or refining his current vision of a place somewhere in between is yet to be seen, but that decision will need to take place before the next album. Stamper’s album is good, but it’s a point on the road and not a stopping point.