Darr: Wichita State’s After Judo builds a strong, jazzy foundation with ‘Harvard Ave.’

It takes a lot of effort to make music that sounds this relaxed. “Harvard Ave.,” the first LP from Wichita State alternative band After Judo, conjures the breezy melancholy of summer love with elegant,  jazzy guitar lines and vocal harmonies. If you’re looking for a great soundtrack to the early warm days of Wichita, it’s hard to imagine a more fitting pick.

The record opens with an opening salvo of excellent tracks that showcase After Judo’s strengths. Opener “Wanna Love” encases all of the band’s best elements in a dynamic song structure. With its gradual introduction of new instruments and an arrangement that transitions smoothly between lushness and calm, “Wanna Love” stakes a strong claim as one of Wichita’s best recent recordings. Its cheery chord structure and hooks carry the song beautifully through instrumental sections on the back half. It’s hard not to expect a lot from the record following such a strong opening.

The first half follows suit to similar success. Though nothing quite reaches the heights of “Wanna Love,” there are plenty of entrancing moments that make for delightful listening. The push-pull drum rhythms of “Lackadaisical” smartly mirror the lyrical conflict at its core, while “Tired Sundays” eases off the gas pedal without slumping into boredom. A bit of post-rock bliss via “Interlude” makes the propulsive, emo-tinged “Breakin My Heart” that much more explosive. The structure of the record allows each song to complement the next in a way that is both subtle and highly effective.

“Lyin in the Grass” and “Melancholy Waves” mark a point where the record loses a bit of steam. Neither song introduces much new to the album, and the ideas on those tracks are done better on previous songs. “Melancholy Waves” has a delightful, psychy guitar section in the middle that unfortunately gets lost in a rock arrangement as the song progresses. These moments of relative weakness are hardly offensive — they simply don’t live up to the rest of the record’s content.

Thankfully, the record closes with “Snowed In,” a composed yet emotional song filled with pretty guitar lines that fall like winter flurries seen through a window. It’s a testament to the group’s ability to expand indie-rock song structures to fit a real range of musical ideas. The track leaves “Harvard Ave.” as an excellent introduction to a promising band with great attention to structure and detail. Here’s to hoping their next work takes the solid foundation they’ve built and incorporates even more risks to create something truly singular.