Jphono1: Low Key Companion  | ★★★1/2 | Potluck; Oct. 21

“This is my yard, my street, my neighborhood, my home. This is the music of a space I occupy.”

These words from Carrboro’s John Harrison describe Low Key Companion, the latest album from his increasingly prolific and far-flung project Jphono1.

Across the last decade, Harrison has charted a course through indie rock that bends and sparkles somewhere between Pavement and Creedence Clearwater Revival into headier territories—such as the intergalactic jazz of this year’s Arcing Phase to Phase, a collaborative EP with Paling Light, and his improvisatory drone duo Tacoma Park.

Like that second project, Low Key Companion explores the human feedback between what we perceive and what we feel. The album, through the inclusion of both raw field recordings and intimately emotional melodies, oscillates between serenity and unease, frequently and impressively occupying both at once. It evokes the way comfortably familiar environs spark bittersweet thoughts, which change the way we feel about a given environment.

The instrumental album pendulums through guitar-girded “improvisational porch jams” both acoustic and electric and beat-forward electro pieces, giving it a scattered feel that makes for a somewhat challenging listen. It’s hard not to wish Harrison had developed either mode at greater length, as the seven two-to-seven-minute snippets glimpse places one could happily get lost in for a half hour or more.

But the album’s keen sense of place and perception unites and elevates its odds-and-sods assemblage. Pedal steel (contributed by Nathan Golub) wavers between contentment and unease in the opening “Backyard at Bug Harbor,” underpinned by crunching leaves and, eventually, a skittering, scratching sound that resembles both insects and a Geiger counter, prompting poignant confusion about whether this is all meant to resemble the natural world or some intrusion into it.

Various instrumental lines from acoustic guitar and banjo meet and tangle on “Taco Ma Park” (which features guitar contributions from Tacoma Park’s Ben Felton), rotating through beaming interludes, driving rhythms, and minor key contortions, like the varied emotions of flipping through an old photo album. Ominous synth billows near the end, and the instruments coalesce into an overwhelming swell, as overlapping thoughts crescendo into anxiety.

The beatscape of “Poppy Patrol” starts out airy and carefree before foreboding technological scrapes insert themselves, eventually erupting into a cavalcade of caustic brightness, neatly evoking moments when your environment—or at least your perception of it—suddenly overwhelms. Our space shapes our thoughts. Our thoughts change how we experience our space. And Low Key Companion gets a lot of mileage out of probing the in-between.

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