Recording information: The Unknown Studio, Anacortes, Washington (09/2015).
A productive songwriter who started Iji (pronounced ee-hee) at the age of 15 with a 16-track digital recorder, Zach Burba's second proper studio album, Bubble, arrives just a year after his studio and Team Love Records debut, Whatever Will Happen. That album followed over a decade of singles, split releases, cassette albums, and touring under the moniker with a rotating backing band. While on the road in support of the studio debut, Burba asked his band to keep dream journals, and those entries supplied the main inspiration for Bubble. The album is also his most collaborative to date, offering a loose, full sound provided by a core five-piece. They reintroduce Burba's breezy, whimsical style on the opener, "What's Real," which should appease existing fans. Horns, grooves, and dreamy ninth chords support a relaxed pace as the songwriter talk-sings ? la Dan Bejar, "How can you tell it's really me?" The track hits its stride during a funky saxophone solo by guest Karl Blau. With expanded chords in place for the duration, unexpected rhythm drops, meter changes, and instrumental breaks mark many of the songs, such as the rock guitar jam two-thirds through "Wild Music." Later, the brief "Stretching Out" is in slow and steady flux. "Orange Peel Moniker" is a more straightforward toe-tapper (until the outro), as is "The Pattern Grows Clearer," despite some off-balance vocal patter ("Then watch the pattern change"). Bookended by the titles "What's Real" and "What's Happening," lyrics that confuse and question reality fit right in with Iji's idiosyncratic mix of abruptness and meandering. Those tendencies are largely tempered by a tone that keeps Mancini and the jazzy new wave of Haircut 100 just within earshot. Altogether, it's a fun record for folks who appreciate some rawness and eccentricity with their classic pop. ~ Marcy Donelson