On the one hand, Jacob Montague is the canonical hipster – plaid shirts, strong beard, enjoys “San Francisco’s finest iced coffee” on his Facebook bio. And there’s something achingly twee about his indie-folk troupe Branches; all tambourines and banjos as if the brothers Mumford never happened. But fair play to the man, he’s a prolific and adroit producer, with many strings to his bow (and many bows to his armory). As a soloist, he takes after Son Lux’s polymathic omniproduction, rivalling Mr. Lott in textural variety and quantity of output.
As Tsutro, he’s creating sturdy electronic alt-pop, and this self-titled debut harbours such a raft of guest vocalists that to call it another solo project would be to downplay their contributions. Tsutro is a curious beast: a genre salad, drawing on folk, house, pop and electronica, with each track geared around – or in deliberate contrast to – its ‘feat.’ persona. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t.
Oklahoman singer Sunday Lane lends Back to You and In My Head a dreamy veil, while Sonny Cleveland’s soul vocal adds a punch to Run’s muted steel drums. In Between is a beaming highlight, its darkly resonant marimba serving as both a fierce hook and a playful counterpoint to the track’s whistling melodies, future bass synths and the diced vocal of Steff Koepen. It’s one of the few occasions that the smushed-together elements really zing.
Later efforts are less successful. Say Something feels diluted and over-produced; So Low and Angkor feature members of Ohio blues band Welshly Arms and the voices sound out of place over those electronic beats. There’s ambition here, but the result is a little soulless, each vocalist sounding at arm’s length from their host tracks. The album’s sonic miscellany – pitched as a strength – becomes its kryptonite.
Listen to: In Between