sholi_sholiAs the North American indie scene becomes increasingly splintered into folksy roots and fuzzy lo-fi garage rock factions, it’s refreshing to hear bands willing to take a more exotic approach. Yet the difficulty of tackling prog influenced song structures is the same as it was back in the 70s. Music that is interesting from a technical standpoint does not automatically translate into an enjoyable listening experience.Fortunately, Sholi’s self-titled debut succeeds more often than not. Complex instrumentation is leavened by an overall sound that doesn’t require its audience to know advanced scales. Opener ‘All That We Can See’ kicks off with a schizophrenic drum exhibition and a fluttering guitar arpeggio before singer and guitarist Payam Bavafa’s distant vocals slowly brings the disparate pieces of the song together. It’s the highlight of the album, but that isn’t to say the drop-off from here is significant.The remainder of the songs follows the same blueprint of shifting time signatures and instrumental interplay, but also includes a healthy dose of pop flourishes to keep the album from becoming an academic exercise. The songs are built around the rhythm section and the freeform nature of its extremities is molded to fit within that framework. It’s an important distinction, one which keeps the individual parts from getting too far askew. On ‘November Through June’, for example, the song moves from Sweep The Leg Johnny -jazz to melodic rock and is kept on point through the purposeful drumming of Jonathon Bafus. Prototypical repetitive keyboards and spastic saxophones are mercifully kept to a bare minimum as there is probably no easier way to send an otherwise decent song over the edge of self-indulgent wankery. Instead of showcasing their individual talents through ridiculous math-rock forays they’ve taken great pains to keep focused on the overall presentation of the song.Although Bavafa cites Persian influences in interviews, the only place this shows is through war-torn lyrical references. Keywords honey and gold on ‘All That We Can See’ invoke a vague sense of the Old Testament into present day Middle East turmoil with pleas of “Everyone hold your fire, hold your fire / I’ll wait for your time, you wait for mine” on ‘Tourniquet’. ‘Any Other God’, oddly enough, may be the one tune on the album that doesn’t have a politically charged theme. It’s the closest song that might rightfully be called a ballad. Bavafa’s time working for experimental neuroscience lab analysing sleep and memory also seeps into the album’s imagery. ‘Spy in the House of Memories’ is the most obvious example where the mechanics of the human brain is used to provide an interesting juxtaposition with Bavafa’s politics.Greg Saunier offered production tips via email after Sholi sent the Deerhoof drummer a three-track demo. It seems to have paid off because it’s easy to imagine how misplaced tuning might have brought down their delicate balance. Fans of Dirty Projectors, Ponytail, Liars and Deerhoof will find much to like here and in some cases the album will win-over new admirers to their brainy yet easily digestible approach. The ingredients going into Sholi’s recipe may not sound appealing initially, but the finished product is delicious.If the recent financial troubles at Touch and Go prove this Sholi release a last hurrah for its subsidiary Quarterstick (sigh), this isn’t a bad way for them to go out.76%Sholi on Myspace