Perhaps there's always been a permeable border between pop and avant-garde music, especially in a scene so rife with good musicians. That said, it does seem that more and more classically-trained instrumentalists are migrating to the pop realm, and accepting the label without apology, or equivocation. Three years ago, Michael Coleman was adapting Robert Schumann chamber music; now he's headlining shows at Rickshaw Stop. Glimpse Trio drummer Hamir Atwal emerged from the free-jazz world, but he's currently obsessed with garage rock. And the biggest local success, tUne-yArDs' Merrill Garbus, thanks the local art music scenes for shaping her career.
And a few years ago violinist Dina Maccabee and multi-instrumentalist Jesse Olsen entered the fray under the moniker Ramon and Jessica. Both of them are monstrously talented musicians who could orchestrate chamber quartets if they wanted to; instead, they've taken a less-is-more approach. Fly South uses toy piano, Casio keyboards, plucked guitar, simple shakers, accordion, and strings, in a way that privileges texture and detail over ornamentation. The songs are small, beautiful, handicraft things with lyrics that read like a William Blake poem — given that the singers draw inspiration from nature. They usually sing together using starchy two-part harmonies that make the music sound more playful and puerile than it actually is. Their shuffling slip of a tune, "Waltz #3: In Which Coffee Becomes Wine," best exemplifies the composers' discerning songcraft and lean sensibility. They say it's wedged between folk and pop, but there's an "avant" element at the core. (Porto Franco)