Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Album Review: Bonsai Universe - Moonstream

Bonsai Universe
***and1/2 out of *****

The first release from Bonsai Universe is the psychedelic pop based Moonstream. The new project is the brainchild of Woody Aplanalp resulting in an odd mix of hippie-electro grooves supplemented by quirky yet polished backing sounds and sweet vocals.

The opening title track sets the scene, talking about traveling on a moonbeam through celestial galaxies as the vocals take center stage with wah-wah effects, a funky bass line and percussive clicks all accompanying the listener on the interplanetary journey through time and space. Those odds sounds stick around for the more organic acoustic strumming of "Am I Good Enough" keeping things a little off-kilter so it doesn't slip into "sho-ba-dooby" bubblegum nonsense.

Aplanalp has had a varied career, mixing with the avant-garde (playing with the Nels Cline Trio) to the highest of pop success (touring with both Bobby Womack and Aloe Blacc). Those worlds seem to be in play on all of his songs in a tug of war between artistic experiments while shooting for mass appeal.

"Sweet Exaggeration" uses a funky beat, excellent acoustic picking and scat singing to move into a Jamiroquai-light zone; an engaging number that speaks to both Aplanalp's influences and his strengths. Both "Summertime Gone" and "A Lot of Nerve" travel more acoustic routes while "Why Are My Dreams" and "Astronic" play up the electronic side of things.

The most interesting tunes come out of Aplanalp's desire to combine both of these worlds, such as on the swirling standout success, "Once Upon A Dream". The track manages to touch on all of the areas Aplanalp has been exploring and coalesces into a dynamite offering with organic artistic flourishes and electronic touches that combine pop sensibilities into an infectious track that speaks to both the ears and heart. 

Things on Moonstream could use some editing at times as "Walking With My Eyes Closed" goes on too long with little variation while "Too Real" shoots for grandiose but never reaches it's goal. "Should I Believe You" floats away into the cosmos with nothing tethering it to earth a lyrically there are a lot of rhymes and multiple syllables, but not a whole lot being said except for escapism, which at times, can be enough.

While the record is clearly Alplanalp's baby some other friends are along to help out including drummer Anthony Logerfo (Promise of the Real, Neil Young). Also present are Paul Lacques (I See Hawks in LA) on dobro and guitar, Jason Chesney and Justin Smith (Old Californio) play bass and sing vocals respectively, while Miguel Atwood-Ferguson arranged strings.

The closing "Starstream" comes full circle to the opening track and again wants to slip away into outer space. For an artist who started playing music because he thought The Beatles sounded cool, there is a lot of the Fab Four (from all stages of their career) directly present, but updated for 2018 on Moonstream. The professional sideman has crafted an engaging release and Bonsai Universe will hopefully prove to be a a new jumping off point in his career, placing him center stage.
Support the artist, buy the album and peep some video below:

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