Each new Badge Époque Ensemble release has unlocked more of the band’s undeniable charms. Growing from a primarily instrumental psych-jazz enclave into a band that’s come to embrace, soul, lounge, psych-pop, and R&B with increasingly blurred lines, BÉE craft each new album into malleable shapes. Their works are as fluid and free as you’re likely to hear, collaborative continuums that embrace the live energy and transfer it to tape. There’s a lightness to Clouds of Joy, as might be evident from the title, but on this album the band let themselves dig deep. The collective most prominently embraces elements of ‘70s Library Music alongside their multi-genre rolodex of existing influences and the cinematic scope shapes the album’s drive.
The band has never shied away from the smoother end of the jazz spectrum, percolating with a velvet vibe that many contemporaries swap for skronk. Here, Badge Époque Ensemble instead embrace the glare of the stage lights off the conga rigging, dodging the smoke rings rising from the crowd, mixing their sway with the sandalwood and scotch in the air. The band has, over the years, amassed quite a collection of guest vocalists, including Meg Remy (U.S. Girls), Jennifer Castle, James Baley, and Dorthea Paas. They bring back quite a few of those for Clouds of Joy, alongside some new faces, with Baley and Paas reprising their roles as honorary members of the group, lighting up their contributions.
Clouds of Joy, while acting as one of the band’s most inviting, is also one of their most overtly psychedelic and immersive records. Stacked harmonies swirl around the listener on more than one occasion, hinting at gospel revelations, but mixing with the rhythms for a mirror maze of sound that blinds and bedazzles the listener. Flutes rise above the winds in soaring reverie. Hand drums hover in constant cadence and Goeij’s keys slip neatly between the slats of the soul. The record is one part Hancock odyssey, one part Jean Rolin score. Once the needle pushes into the plastic, the listener is swept up in rhythm, light, humidity, and heat. The band has let themselves craft a record that’s meant to be lounged in, lived in. This is an album experience in a sea of singles, and the more I listen, the harder it is to divorce one song from another. It’s a score and soundtrack that looks to Stevie Wonder side-long sojourns and Torossi vignettes with equal weight, melting soul-jazz legacies like candle wax into an album of lightness and love.
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