Mind Out Wandering opens with Astronauts, etc. frontman Anthony Ferraro playing keys before a calm conglomeration of sounds take shape and embolden his output. Ferraro is notably Toro y Moi’s touring keyboard player; in fact Ferraro and Toro y Moi’s Chaz Bundick just released a quirky collaborative cover of Elton John’s “Rocket Man.” But on his own Astronauts, etc. project, Ferraro has developed a sound that’s very much his own and elevates his strengths as a singer, keyboardist, writer and bandleader. He’s brought along a stunning lineup of musicians, who together are poking through what’s become an intriguing and promising indie scene in Oakland, Calif., to enact his vision.
If the melancholy of “If I Run” doesn’t appeal immediately, then “Place w: You” does it with uptempo drums, a heavy dose of soft cymbals and a freestyle guitar groove, before Ferraro’s keys serve as a gorgeous bridge between each intricate segment of the song. The same uptempo pacing comes through on the penultimate “See You,” and everything in between is engagingly soothing.
Ferraro’s voice is high-pitched, yet tempered and exact, evoking shades of the Barry Gibb-led Bee Gees. When Ferraro’s vocals are stacked and mixed, the vibe leans even more towards the ‘70s soul of Bee Gees harmonies. Don’t confuse this analogy with the disco-forward Bee Gees, however; it’s more like the silky balladry of a song like “How Deep Is Your Love.”
On “Up For Grabs,” Ferraro sweetly coos “I know that I’m a pain in the ass, but I heard that your heart is up for grabs,” before guitarist Derek Barber’s melody helps guide the beautiful song. Barber’s (also of Oakland neo-soul band Bells Atlas) guitar work is notable throughout the album, from the tastefully written hook of “I Know” to the riffy “Eye to Eye.”
Ferraro’s arrangements allow all of the elements of Mind Out Wandering to stand out both alone and together. Each sound can be isolated and appreciated at any moment with great clarity, likely a credit to both Ferraro and to the album being recorded at John Vanderslice’s highly regarded Tiny Telephone Recording Studio in San Francisco.
The single, “No Justice,” like much of the album, is a callback to late-’70s and ‘80s lounge rock. Yet, Mind Out Wandering isn’t trying to be something it’s not. It’s as smooth of a listen as you’ll find this year and a chilled-out journey through the musical mind of Anthony Ferraro. Ferraro shares the same humble poise that has led to great success for his colleague Chaz Bundick, and it surely awaits him at the finish line as well.