Sunsp.t: JoFi-1 ★★★ ½ | Sleepy Cat |  April 28

Like many short releases, Sunsp.t’s JoFi-1 is hard to judge in the moment.

The project, which is the sophomore effort of Durham-based keyboard and synth specialist Joe MacPhail (T. Gold, The Oblations, DreamRoot), is the first half of a dual EP release, with the companion due out in December.

It also marks a departure from the eccentrically bedecked but traditionally structured pop-rock songs of Psychical, MacPhail’s 2021 Sunsp.t debut. This new effort drops the vocals to focus on the project’s distinct instrumentals, which are driven by charismatic keyboard melodies and draped in innervating production that explodes familiar lo-fi textures into thrilling hi-fi.

If MacPhail continues down the path the EP suggests, it could signal the rise of a truly special voice in indie electronic music. And if JoFi-1 and its companion end just up as quick palate cleanses before the project resumes its initial trajectory, they’d still be fun, fleeting diversions.

The EP starts with a well-executed feint. “Quarantine Jam 1” begins as a skeletal beat cut through by percussive splashes of electric guitar and keys. But it soon blossoms into a bouquet of harmoniously contrasting sound, a primer for the backdrops MacPhail builds upon in the other five tracks.

The funkadelic 16-bit stomp of “Step On” would be a perfect soundtrack if Outkast ever decided to put out a video game. Indeed, the gamer vibes are frequent, with the percolating beat and amiably swirling keyboard lead of the aptly named “Forest Level” approximating what it would feel like if Sonic the Hedgehog chose to get high and hang out in the Green Hill Zone instead of dashing around collecting rings.

Closer “Samurai Shampoo” is the EP’s most expansive cut. With reverb-rich programmed strings set against jazzy piano tinkles, its watery opulence envisions rolling up to a posh deep-sea nightclub.

JoFi-1 doesn’t quite rise to the level of electronic luminaries like Dan Deacon or Flying Lotus, but it suggests that MacPhail has more than enough talent to reach their level. The only question is where he’ll direct those talents moving forward.

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