New York-bred TAUK has been laying down an all-instrumental blend of progressive rock, hip-hop and jazz on stages across the U.S. for the last several years, and recently released several iterations of “Real TAUK”, to document some of the great moments from each tour. Though fans have clamored for each “Real TAUK” release (now up to Volume 3) they’ve also reveled in the deep sonic explorations from the band’s studio forays.
Their most recent studio album Shapeshifter II: Outbreak, offered an unsettling but ultimately exhilarating look at artificial intelligence and its potential to upend our world. With its dynamic sense of tension and cinematic mastery of mood, it proved to be an album that’s both powerfully hypnotic and intensely thought-provoking.
“We’re all very much interested in A.I., and this idea of machines getting out of the hands of the people trying to control them,” notes TAUK guitarist Matt Jalbert, whose bandmates include bassist Charlie Dolan, keyboardist Alric “A.C.” Carter, and drummer Isaac Teel. “This album felt like a good setting to tell that kind of story, but in a way where we could have fun with it and let the listener escape into a whole other world.”
Equally inspired by classic sci-fi like Blade Runner and more recent films like Ex Machina, Shapeshifter II: Outbreak embeds that narrative into TAUK’s most sonically adventurous, emotionally expansive work to date. A continuation of their early-2018 EP Shapeshifter I: Construct, the new album picks up its predecessor’s narrative thread with “Prelude”: a fantastically unsettling intro track whose frenetic keyboard work and chilling vocal samples set the tone for what’s to come. “The idea is that in the EP you’re seeing the construction of this being, and in the album you’re seeing it break out and become something that you can’t ignore anymore,” Carter explains.
Free-flowing yet elaborately composed, Shapeshifter II: Outbreak came to life in collaboration with TAUK’s longtime cohort Robert Carranza—a Grammy Award-winning producer/mixer/engineer also known for his work The Mars Volta, Ozomatli, Marilyn Manson, and Taj Mahal. In a departure from their previous releases (including 2016’s Sir Nebula), the band shunned the typical studio environment and holed up for weeks in a long-abandoned, century-old home that Teel describes as “the Jumanji house meets Addams Family meets Amityville Horror.” Located in their homeland of Long Island, the house turned out to be the ideal spot for their makeshift studio, allowing for a creativity-enhancing seclusion.
Inspired by their work on Shapeshifter II: Outbreak TAUK has taken to broadening their live sonic palette to include a vast spectrum of synth sounds and programmed effects (such as those exquisitely eerie vocal samples heard in “Prelude”)Esteemed musicians who contributed to the album such as The Naughty Horns and Ghost-Note’s Nate Werth (a percussionist who’s also played with David Crosby, Q-Tip, and Snarky Puppy) have also joined the band onstage.
Each Real TAUK release showcases the potent chemistry they discovered in childhood, when longtime friends Dolan, Jalbert, and Carter formed their first band in seventh grade. After playing together in various projects, the trio brought Teel into the fold in 2012, cementing the final lineup. Since then, TAUK have shared stages with acts like Umphrey’s McGee, Widespread Panic, and Lettuce, appeared at festivals like Electric Forest and Bonnaroo, and earned acclaim from major outlets like the Washington Post (who praised TAUK for “creating a hard-charging, often melodic fusion that—thanks to a penchant for improv—offers limitless possibilities”). As Teel points out, the band’s incessant touring over the years has significantly strengthened their musical connection. “The four of us as individuals are all very animated souls in our own right,” he says. “We each have our ideas and our perspectives, and when it all comes together, it creates this collective statement that takes on a life of its own.”