Migala's Journey to Its Own Post-Rock Past. Sigh.
Migala just isn’t going anywhere, but they’re doing it in high style. I guess that’s the point.
I really liked Arde, where they laid out their vision for what they saw as the future of post-rock music: a combination of Tortoise, Lambchop, and Café Tacuba, perhaps, with some great interesting weird sound effects (car crash percussion!) and some intriguing ESL lyrics (the thing about the cockatoo!). Then they got bored with themselves and revisited some of their earlier songs on Restos de el Inciendo, beefing up the arrangements a bit, but not necessarily adding a lot to the mix. I was intrigued but didn’t know where they would go next.
Well, if the album title is to be believed, they want to go on an incredible adventure. Sadly, I don’t think it’s as incredible as they seem to think. I’m not saying their music isn’t powerful or beautiful, because it is. But this is not really a new direction for them, or for anyone. It’s all still part of the same template, and it’s all still the same: brooding doomy instrumentals with lighter interludes, then lighter instrumentals with doomy interludes. Two of the songs have lyrics, and a couple of them have vocal samples from movies or TV shows, but that’s it; hey, I don’t need lyrics to enjoy music, but these two tracks don’t seem to fit into the rest of the album.
Or maybe they do, I don’t know. This album is made, apparently, to fit in with the short films on the accompanying DVD by new band member Nacho Piedra. But it’s a European DVD, so it won’t play in either of my players, so I can’t really speak to that. Maybe it’s a perfect soundtrack… but I will never know.
As an album, I don’t get the theme. I think, like all European music nowadays, it has something to do with the shitty situation of the world. After all, the first song is called “El Imperio de Mal” (“The Evil Empire”), and has a Darth Vader sample to undergird it: “I’ve been waiting for you, Obi-Wan. We meet again at last.” The heft of this track is impressive, with surf guitar and Godspeed-ish explosions on the riff that serves as the chorus. Migala is up to nine full-time members now, and they can create a lot of noise; I bet it’d be fun to see them doing these dive-bombing guitars live. But after the great drum break about 2:30 in, it’s just back to the same thing again, repeated. Which they’ve done.
They’ve also done stuff like “El Tigre Que Hay en Ti” before: mid-tempo tension-headache instrumental with English-language vocal sample. But it rocks harder than they’ve done before, so one gets one’s hopes up—until one realizes that it’s just the same thing over and over. The same can be said of the beginning of “Tucson, Game Over”, which does the same trick they’ve done before of rewriting Funkadelic’s “Maggot Brain” and throwing in an accordion and yet another English vocal sample on top to disguise the fact. I was hopeful about two minutes in when the track changed, but it just became more plodding instrumental stuff. [Note: I actually stole that last phrase from my scribblings about the portentiously-titled “WWW (Searching for the Wicked Witch of the West).”]
One wordless track that works very well is the album closer, “Lecciones de Vuelo con Mathias Rust”. (If you don’t know why the idea of Mathias Rust giving flying lessons is hilarious, Google him like I did, it’s a hoot.) It’s yet another two-part track, but this time the parts make sense: the opening is an unfunky yet powerful march, the second is a sort of rewrite of the long coda from “Layla”. This one works, and works well—mostly, I suspect, because it’s a very long song. Migala does best when they stretch out like this, so I don’t know why a lot of the other songs hover near the three- or four-minute mark. Someone needs to hire me as their musical advisor.
As far as the songs with original lyrics go, they’re grouped right together in the middle of the album, and they are also the bright spots of the set. Abel Hernández’s croaky croon compliments the folk-und-drang of “Your Star, Strangled” in a way never less than perfect; the clarinet and harmonica lines weaving in and out make this one of the more difficult compositions they’ve ever done. And “El Gran Miércoles” is even better. It’s yet another slow burner, but with just the right amount of poison in it before Hernández enters, stage-whispering about how “It appears to me I’ve seen / Three honeys with tiger t-shirts on.” And then it explodes.
These songs rock in a way that many of the rest of the tracks are afraid to do. Why is Migala so gun-shy? Why have they settled for plod over fireworks, for stasis over excitement? I have no clue. I still love this group, but I don’t trust them any more. They’ve never really recovered from their career crisis, and I’m not sure they can reappear from their own cocoon. I’m hoping, but I’m not holding my breath.