Crisp and popping snares lead the way as spacey keyboards blips and beeps knead into warm and fuzzy organs floating on flowing jazz-rock rhythms swimming within Ilad’s second full-length album National Flags. It’s a more refined enhancement to the predecessor The Spoon in 2005 as the Virginia quartet retains the previous existential atmospherics and their strength to create a rich meditative mood of simplistic and progressive rock chords, space jazz improvisations and covert country and at times clandestine bluegrass rhythms.
The ten tracks, as before, find their strength in the deep trips to a land of psychedelic improvisational jazz. There’s a keen track-to-track progression, alternating from the rapid syncopated to the slower more melodic, making each song more pronounced and gorgeous. Towards the album’s end, “Holy Wars” finds Ilad kicking up the tempo and getting overtly political but for the most part the muddled and blurry lyrics on National Flags required careful deciphering and multiple listens.
National Flags was recorded at Chicago’s Soma Studios and mixed by John McEntire who’s previously worked with Tortoise and The Sea and Cake. The recording environment and creative direction seems to have rubbed off on the experimental jazz-rock fusion vision of the Richmond, Virginia quartet. Much of the album induces a mellow sorrow, putting you into somewhat of a detached state of mind that is both addictive and seductive. And it’s the tenacious and so-well-done-you-forget-about-it time keeping of drummer and songwriting anchor Scott Clark who leads you into a subterranean inner space sequel to Spoon, adding more musical emotion, giving National Flags a deeper, more balanced resonance via more structured songwriting. It’s a fine follow up to The Spoon and exactly what I hoped — with a few surprises — would happen when I swallowed my first serving of Ilad last year.