From their 2012 start, eclectic Oakland’s Once & Future Band always reached for a simple goal—never mind the Kodachrome, dream-catcher, psych-rock veneer.
“Progressive rock has a reputation for being esoteric and grandiose, and we love those elements of the genre. But at the most basic level, Once & Future Band is a pop group,” Raj Ojha told me in an interview from 2017. “Whether melodically or lyrically, we’re always trying to connect with the listeners, to take them on a trip but not lose them along the way”.
Deleted Scenes (Castle Face Records)—a slow drip, greasy ramble this side of ’76 Steely Dan—follows up their 2017 self-titled powder keg of AOR-meets-’60s/’70s pop by churning out mostly ‘break-up’ tunes in a cryptic groove that sticks. This trio made up of Bay Area veteran musicians (keyboardist-vocalist Joel Robinow, bassist-vocalist Eli Eckert, drummer Raj Ojha) decided to exist in a rarefied sound conglomeration from the bands’ inception.
Fusion, R&B, blue-eyed soul and early ’70s psychedelic type of pastiche from the jump. Insert lyrics outlaying crushed emotions: It’s the farthest thing expected to surface on John Dwyer’s co-founded Castle Face Records. The Oh Sees’ guitarist stays on the lugey-hocking garage side of psych when it comes to his roster: Flat Worms, Fuzz, The Fresh & Onlys and Total Control rep that. Yet Once & Future Band checks so many other boxes, they may actually fit best with the renegade stamp.
“I’m just looking for someone to sing my songs to” claims “Andromeda,” a first song confection packed with sailing choruses, baroque arrangements, and varying time signatures. Bleak in lyrical tone, rich in texture, plentiful in bearded dudes’ feelings, for sure. It’s a dedication to isolation and lonely despair over a Yes type of orchestration, moving from ballad to fusion arrangement in under four clicks. “Automatic Air,” staggers bleary-eyed, adorning this echoed Roy Ayers type of effect, while “I am a stranger to love” chorus floats about. This troubadour energy persists, giving off vibes of the downtrodden at the keyboard, you’re caught in a 3am speakeasy.
The self-deprecating reactionary “Freaks” opens: “You used to say we would always be together/ But I knew it was a lie/ Cause everybody dies/ Even the memories.” Encased in a Beatles-Esque carnival romp, operating with steam-punk cadence, Robinow penned this ‘ode to feeling adrift’ following a disagreement he had with an old girlfriend. Deleted Scenes, a stand-out mood, packed to the teeth with Donald Fagen cynicism, awash in LA keyboard sleaze, finds the group exercising mastery of leisurely pop guided by jazz phrasing. Offering further proof, this band, conjoined with a hell of a rhythm section, makes rejection sound like dawn separating itself from the previous night.
Instrumentals such as “Several Bullets in My Head,” “Mr. G,” and “The End of The Beginning,” stay building on that rep. A jazz-fusion audio verse draped in stout-hearted guitar riffs. Earworm melodies. Sturdy funk-weird bits ranging from peak Brian Auger Oblivion Express to George Duke’s most out-there arrangements. Take away the lyrics dealt with Robinow’s dead-ass Fagen milieu, those nasty horns (care of Danny Levin) and daydream synths stay. Giving record nerds pause, low-key guessing. “What year did this come out?”