Live at the Red Star, Baton Rouge, LA 11/25/05
Why is it so difficult to describe an instrumental band to others, outside of saying that they are an instrumental band? I was having this same dilemma when I brought a friend of mine to a show for Tristeza, a hypnotic instrumental combo from San Diego who blend organ , chimey guitars and rhythm in a completely accessible and slyly intense clockwork. In preparation I put there latest CD A Colores in the car as I did my post Thanksgiving shopping, running around. Its rotary melodies interlocking like a gear array kept me sane in the holiday cluster, even when i got a flat tire in the Wal-Mart parking lot. The flap-flap-flap of my blowout made a nice counterpoint to their take on Philip Glass rock. On their latest album A Colores, they deliver a heavy throbbing contrapuntal organic style of rock, with synth flourishes that almost borders on lite rock fare before buzzing into mind altering drones. The opening track "Bromas" sets the tension in motion, with the twinkling repetitive guitar twinkling that persists throughout the album. Tracks like "Abarzo Distante" make good use of echo and drum machine to create this sly funky moody music, where "liquid Pyramids" relies on a high tide of cymbal crashes and ringing guitars to set things in motion. A lot of times with instrumental bands, you get the feeling that they are filling the void that a singer would normally occupy with lots of flourish, but they remind me a lot of Australian mood trio The Dirty Three in that they are more focuses on creating simple but incredibly vibrant colors with their calculated interplay.
One of my favorite tracks is "Halo Heads" which maintains a jaunty steady pace through its 5 minute run, with all the sophisticated complexity of Tortoise at their better moments with a techno endurance quotient. Another great number is "Aereoaviones" where the scale runs and drum explosions bounce along the bubbling keyboard lines until the converge into a dense continuum. They remind me a lot, in fact, of an early New Order, like the Movement and Power, Corruption and Lies New Order where they would throb and bob around the heaviness present in their sound. Both groups have a way (or New order had, anyway) a way of taking their odd palette and making it sound completely organic, like the music had just grown that way.
In live performance, this becomes even more clear. The evening was broken into individual songs and it was completely evident that this was not just some delay-pedal infused jam, but really it could have all melted into each other, layers meeting layers like books whose leaves are intermingled creating a larger narrative and new loops of rhythm that branch off and beget more rhythms until the whole place was levitating. For a band that is pretty much heads down to their instruments, and not addressing the crowd, they still commanded a rapt audience. Every head and foot was bobbing and tapping in Tristeza's unyielding hypnotic wave. One almost expected them to lead us out the door at the end of the night into a nearby parked cloud to bring us to the mothership.
Is it the most varied thing out there? Clearly not. Tristeza stick to their strengths creating buzzing ringing cosmic melodies that drift in the air like smoke rings, and should you have a taste for the hypnotic, I suggest getting a good seat and letting them take the controls for a while.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com