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Nucultures – Butterflies, Zebras and Moonbeams

As I struggled to write the first words of this review, I tried to pinpoint the cause of my seemingly thoughtless state. I’m a bit tired, but nothing unmanageable. My pen works fine, and even if it didn’t I would at least have an idea of what to scratch onto the paper. The neighbors are noisy, but at least I’ve got headphones. In fact, I’ve got my subject matter wrapped around my ears right now, the super-chill Butterflies, Zebras and Moonbeams by Nucultures.

So why can’t I write this? And that’s when it hit me! Could the very disc I was to be reviewing be too chill for me to write about? Could it be freezing my thoughts in a cool, motionless stupor to be thawed out for future use? In my attempt to find the reason why I can’t write anything, I started writing. So I’ll just keep going.


Hailing from Philadelphia, PA, Nucultures is the collective effort of lyricist/vocalist Ellie Perez, guitarist/producer Tim Motzer and bassist/songwriter Barry Meehan. Featuring the lyrical, vocal and musical talents of each of the three contributors, this two disc collaboration is quite ambitious.

For me, the highlights of both discs came with some of the darker songs. Disc A really seemed to fall into a dark, jazzy groove with track four, “Behind the Moon.” Though the song itself is a bit light and funky, it begins to introduce a darker subject. As the trumpet gently rolls over the top of this track, Ellie Perez informs us that the “world ‘s gone mad”; most of the time repeating this line over the aforementioned “lighter” parts of the track. It’s most effective, though, when uttered over the experimental breakdown near the end. Gotta love the breakdown.

The subsequent track, “Babylon Is Crying,” is arguably the coolest song of this whole project. This dark, foreboding jazz exercise is the essence of cool. As the beat and piano slink around in the shadows, I get the feeling I’m on the wrong side of the tracks, but in a good way. It feels like I am privy to some shady dealings that perhaps I don’t want to know about.
Soon we make it to track six, which completes the trilogy of darker songs to which I seem a bit biased. It’s a shorter track, but it picks up where “Behind the Moon” left off, with vocals and piano urging us to “Run for Cover”.

In perfect contrast we have a much lighter group of songs, which make up the majority of this compilation. Some of the highlights including the melodic acoustic strumming and vocal arrangement of “The Shadow Box,” upright pianos floating over the languid grooves of “Think I’m Losin’ It,” Ellie Perez’ beautiful voice lightly crooning as synth pads sweep and swell on “Find Life Alive” and finally, we near the end of disc B with Ellie Perez accompanied by cello and a slide guitar; all melding to form the emotive “Nowhere.”

The balance of dark and light, love and war, despair and hope appears to be a major theme and is executed quite nicely on this two disc set, but again, I am a bit partial to the darker sides of the album. The only real fault I found with Butterflies, Zebras and Moonbeams, as is the case with many two disc albums, is some of it seemed like filler. In my opinion, if the very best parts were taken from part A and B, it may have fit on one single disc. Well, maybe one and a half. Nevertheless, it’s glaringly obvious that the Nucultures trio is quite talented and if we’re fortunate we’ll hear much more from them in the future.


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