Jazz is supposedly a grown folks’ genre, played by aging bohemians in tiny clubs. Tell that to the Breathing Effect—a self-described electronic group influenced by soul, rock and jazz—whose debut album, Mars Is a Very Bad Place for Love, toes a line between traditional and turn up. As a unit, producer/keyboardist Eli Goss and drummer/bassist Harry Terrell merge the standards of conventional jazz with modern bounce beats. By definition, it scans as "jazz fusion," but the results conjure '70s R&B as well as the contemporary Los Angeles beat scene and hip-hop. Clearly, Goss and Terrell study Pink Floyd and the Soft Machine, but it seems they dig Thundercat and Stevie Wonder, too.
The genesis of the Breathing Effect can be traced to its fascinating 2014 EP, on which Goss and Terrell spread aquatic rhythms over five tracks. From "Layers of Thought" to "Losing My Mind", the resulting mixture was equally soothing and mesmerizing; the EP as a whole worked just as well under clear or gray skies. Mars is more upbeat than its predecessor, though the opening tunes—"Forestial Things" and "Cloudy Afternoon"—continue the EP’s mellow ambience. Yet by the third song, the two-tiered "Cold Meteor Showers", Goss and Terrell hit a stride.
In a way, Mars plays like musical theater: It’s driven by space travel, and follows the story of two lovers cruising the galaxy with no concept of time. Tracks like "One for the Mountains By the Sea" and "Twenty Years Altogether" recall spacious isolation, of couples escaping life’s hustle to be alone with each other. It’s a notion evoked on album standout, "Weightless Reality", where Goss, Terrell and guest vocalist Kalia Vandever sing of a fantasy world of waterfalls and underwater utopia. Whether or not they’re depicting planet Mars is anyone’s guess. Still, the music conveys a very real narrative while using few words, which is usually a tough task for most instrumental albums.
The vocals, sparing as they are, come from Goss, Terrell, Vandever and Michael Mayo, who tend to float along the periphery of the music, underlining the instrumentals. On "Streetlights Out of Focus", Mayo drifts softly, his wails a breezy compliment to Goss and Terrell’s composition. And of all the great things happening here—the Isley Brothers vibe on "Fireflies", the dense layers of "Visions"—you can actually feel the melodies, which remain at the forefront even though the music drifts in all directions. The blend seeps into the background if you let it, but dominates your attention in headphones, played loudly. "Rising Inside"—the LP’s best song and one of the group’s finest to date—uses swift percussion, bright synths and a Vocoder, working up a loud bounce that would fit comfortably within rap circles and jazz crowds, two sects that couldn’t be farther apart these days. It’s a grand culmination for the Breathing Effect: experimental jazz with the potential for huge resonance.
-Marcus J Moore, pitchfork.com