Very much akin to their Midwest brethren that populate Chicago’s Thrill Jockey label, Fantastic Merlins are well-versed in jazz-influenced trips into the avant-garde. Think more Isotope 217’s fractured fusion or Town and Country’s deft manipulation of drones instead of Tortoise’s overarching post-rock fascination. The disc’s liner notes draw a parallel between jazz and cinema as being both “art-forms masquerading as entertainment” and it’s an interesting assertion since Look Around plays like a long forgotten soundtrack from a very bizarre genre film. Compositions like the title track and “A Very Small Animal” are pure odes to noir, with luminous brass melodies shining off cello-slicked drones. It’s the sound of a humid August night in the city with the latter track becoming imbued with some piquant Middle Eastern melodies as it closes out.
In contrast to these languid numbers, the abstract funk of “I Was Behind the Couch All the Time” and the mind-bending psychedelic science fiction climax “It Would Seem” get the blood flowing fairly quickly. The Merlins are adept at steering their sound between quirky and sophisticated, pensive and manic when changing their sonic moods. It might be impressionistic and wholly light on structure, but it’s still much more accessible than most other acts carrying the “free jazz” label.