Dana Buoy‘s regular gig is playing percussion for Akron/Family, the indie rock band steeped in rootsy Americana and folk, injected with a heavy dose of electronic psychedelia. On his debut solo release Summer Bodies, Buoy aims for a more tropical musical climate. There are touches of vaguely Caribbean rhythms working their way throughout much of the album, with thick synthesized beats mimicking bass-heavy reggaeton grooves, as on the opening track, “Anatomy of Now”.
Buoy (née Dana Janssen) clearly brought over a handful of Akron/Family tricks. His vocals are often heavily drowned in effects, noise and electronics slither around acoustic instruments, and the focus is always on songcraft, not soundscapes or self-consciously composed music. “Delicate Suitor” is a study in gradually building a track, one note, one instrument at a time, all behind a repetitive vocal melody. With synthesizer chords droning in the background, the song climaxes with a frenzy of crystalline keyboard patterns and, eventually, a house beat.
Despite all this, Buoy never seems to fully achieve what makes his music with Akron/Family so enthralling. These songs lack the homely honesty of “I’ll Be on the Water” from their self-titled 2005 album, or the wild freakouts of “Ed Is a Portal” or “I’ve Got Some Friends” from 2007’s Love is Simple. Instead, he opts for a poppy, feel-good sound that he dubs “Tropicore.” He nails it on a few tracks, like the countrified guitar licks of “Hand Over Hand”. It’s jammy rock, full of good vibes from a steady and smooth bass and tambourine beat. Equally enjoyable is the slow jam “Futures Past”, where Buoy’s normally thin vocals shine over live drums and unexpected harmonic progressions.
Summer Bodies was composed, in large part, using synthesizers, laptops, and iPad apps; yet the best songs, the ones where Buoy’s musicianship really stands out, are those that rely less on electronics, and lean instead on guitars, drums (real ones), and analog synths. It’s that simple grounding in classic song structures and well-played instruments that’s kept his music so fascinating through all his past endeavors.
Essential Tracks: “Delicate Suitor”, “Hand Over Hand”, and “Futures Past”