These overflowing, abundant moments are rare on Doubles. The improvisations are mostly restrained and responsive, if a touch tentative. Asher and Nealand’s careful attention to one another’s playing at times can be too deferential; it can feel as if the tracks have been daubed in gray to keep the brightest lights from shining through. In a similar way, the traditionally composed songs are orderly and well drilled; “Claptrap Clapback” is a study in staying on task even as Daniel Meinecke’s synths whistle and whirr.
Still, there are moments when the band’s two sides merge. A couple of minutes into the stately funk of “Primetime a Go-Go,” the two drummers pull apart and expand the song’s boundaries, giving Asher and Nealand enough room to back away from one another and push off down what become wildly separate paths, the two discordant solos unrolling over a cut-and-thrust rhythm. You don’t even notice how high in the rafters they’ve taken you until they guide your feet back onto the ground.
It’s easy to want Basher to go the full Mwandishi, to not only test the limits of their concept but blow right past them; you sense that these songs were built to do just that in a live setting. But as a studio work, Doubles is more interested in maintaining a level of unease that is endemic to New Orleans culture. The humid blues of “Ponchatoula” pulses with mourning and the feeling of joy squandered, with Asher letting out a satin braid of a solo that flashes and dims as the band guides it through the changes. New Orleans musicians have been writing storm-dampened songs like “Refinery Skies” for a hundred years, and maybe longer; like the light that shines through the polluted air of the oil facilities across the Mississippi River, the music’s incredible beauty is the direct product of the malignancy of the environment.
New Orleans loves a good time. But for longtime residents, the thrills can often feel like meager recompense for the exhaustions of climate, crime, and—since Katrina, at least—a horde of transplants eager to be redeemed by the Big Easy’s legendary juju. Doubles pays tribute both to the city’s abundant spirit and to its complicated legacy. Decay creeps into this album’s brightest moments, making these songs feel a little distant, a little difficult to love for the way they seem to keep the party at bay.