If you can’t get away right now for a trip to East Asia, here’s the next best thing. Boston-based musician Ian Coss made that journey in 2011. He lived in Indonesia and Japan for a few years, creating a sort of travelogue through the eyes of a stranger in a strange land, as his own personal fantasies, concerns and anxieties wove their way through his daily encounters. He speaks of the lives of ordinary people and everyday experiences, but through a foreigner’s perspective, one who is grappling with remembrances of home and relationships he left behind. This curious narrative would become his starting point for An Act of Imagination, just released on his own Fashion People Records. The music has a bright pop sound with bits of spritely Asian pop flavor and a little Americana and even R&B mixed in, quite fitting for an American on a far Eastern adventure. The crowning jewel, in my opinion, is the song and accompanying video for “Ten Days,” a delightfully quirky observation of the final days of his physical and emotional journey.
Ian Coss isn’t just a guy; it’s a band. The album features the string arrangements of Michael Vitale, with drummer Bill Carbone (Max Creek, Melvin Sparks) and bassist Alex Chakour (Charles Bradley, Eric Krasno). Jared Sims adds a bit of saxophone, while Kelsey Tyssowski is on vocals and piccolo. Their music is highly literate and sophisticated, with the instruments in a lively and engaging conversation.
Ian Coss (the guy) is a songwriter, audio engineer and music scholar. His musical pursuits in high school, creating less than cheery Christmas albums for his family and friends (some of this can be heard on the band’s bandcamp). After returning from his exotic journey, he joined up with like-minded musicians, recording the album and creating Fashion People Records. The label was founded with musicians Alex Chakour (Sharon Jones, Charles Bradley) and Howard Feibusch (of Brooklyn trio Howard, recently covered here).
In addition to his band and label, Coss has spent several years studying Balinese gamelan music, performing with his own gender wayang quartet and Boston-based Galak Tika. He also worked on a PhD in ethnomusicology at Boston University. Not too shabby.
About Fashion People Records
The label, located in Chakour’s Amherst, Massachusetts studio, enables the founders to record, market and distribute their own music. They hope to develop a reputation for top-notch artists and high-quality recordings. So far. they’ve released Coss’s “An Act of Imagination,” Howard’s “Religion” and the debut from fellow Western Mass. band Temporary Friends.