The Los Angeles producer’ upbeat second LP is a short, feature-heavy collection that emphasizes his charmingly loose funk and synth-pop arrangements.
Jim-E Stack has hovered around the fringes of electronic indie-pop music for a while now, first crafting homespun hybrids of club and dance music on 2014’s Tell Me I Belong. He’s worked with left-of-center pop artists as a producer and songwriter since, providing reverb-heavy synths and shuffling, distorted kick drums to songs by Charli XCX, Empress Of, and Caroline Polachek. On his second solo LP, EPHEMERA, Stack moves past the sample-happy instrumentals of his debut and instead teams up with several former collaborators for an upbeat 20-minute set emphasizing funk and synthpop arrangements that feel charmingly loose and lived-in.
Stack pieced together EPHEMERA over the past few years from sessions with artists working on their own projects, but despite the title, the album doesn’t feel like a total hard-drive dump. Empress Of is laid-back and in high spirits on “Note to Self,” a chugging synthpop track with pitch-shifted vocal accents and shimmering piano. The song barely feints at a chorus, but the fractured details add up to a jubilant shot of self-confidence. Stack keeps the breeziness going on “Sweet Summer Sweat,” propped up by a hazy guitar loop and honeyed vocals from L.A. artist Dijon. Midway through, a lean club break packed with echoing sirens and cycling drums adds a euphoric kick of momentum.
As EPHEMERA bends from blissful songs to more melancholy interludes, Stack builds on moods rather than memorable hooks. Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon lumbers over “Jeanie,” a scuffed R&B track submerged in guitars that resemble Jai Paul’s watery electro-funk (see also: the yearning, ruptured instrumental “Be Long 2”). The garbled “Lost Man” fares better, with an assist from London rapper Octavian over a snapping backdrop that calls back to Tell Me I Belong’s mid-tempo highlights.
Stack doesn’t linger in the downcast headspace for long. On “Can We,” a gauzy pop song featuring Kacy Hill, he offers more solid structural and rhythmic ground. Stack produced the bulk of Hill’s airy second album this year, and the pair’s alchemy together feels weightless; here, Hill’s voice is slightly pitched up, dancing over rolling drums, whizzing synths, and funky guitar licks. EPHEMERA doesn’t make much of an effort to break new ground, but on “Can We,” Stack dials into his sweet spot, melding a dulcet vocal delivery with his own understated, soothing flourishes.