On At Night, the duo’s second recording, Theo Bleckmann and Ben Monder make the kind of music that critics often describe as genre-defying. Bleckmann, a vocalist who also contributes what he calls “live electronic processing,” sings in an off-kilter style that is reminiscent of Gastr Del Sol’s David Grubbs and Shudder to Think’s Craig Wedren, two of post-punk’s artiest crooners. And Monder, an electric guitarist, alternates between lighter-than-air melodies and distortion-rich atmospherics that suggest no one so much as John Abercrombie. Together, they sound otherwordly.
It’s tempting to just say that this record is a beaut and leave it at that. But music this unusual requires a caveat. You see, for all of its gorgeousness—which is, on several tracks, bolstered by drummer Satoshi Takeishi—At Night’s vocals are an acquired taste. Bleckmann gives the lyrics odd shapes, and his higher-pitched moments make Joni Mitchell, whose “Sunny Sunday” is covered here, seem sort of butch. None of which makes this record any less good. It just makes it different—or maybe more mysterious. And the lyrics only add to the enigma. “No light and no land anywhere,” Bleckmann sings on the opener, “Late, By Myself.” “Cloud-cover thick/I try to stay/just above the surface/yet I’m already under/and living within the ocean.” As far as themes go, it’s a pretty good way to introduce a record that rewards unskeptical submersion. Knowing what to call this music doesn’t make it any more enjoyable. Sometimes it’s best just to dive right in.