Most bands these days include a press sheet with advance copies of their new album, in hopes of helping poor reviewers like myself to a better understanding of said album, to find a concept or notion to latch onto, before ostensibly recommending the CD to you—the consumer—to purchase (or not) with your sweat-soaked wad of dollar bills. San Diego, CA, indie-rock trio [Minmae] include just such a sheet with Ya Te Vas?, their sixth album.(I realize you’ll never read the press sheet; go along with me on this, though.) But rather than shining a light on the band’s latest work, their press sheet serves to further obfuscate and obscure the band. Can anyone tell me what this sentence, excerpted from the press sheet, means, or better yet, diagram this sentence: “And I’ll tell you this; [sic] this band, devoid of all chronology or plot, well, for it, the plot has thickened, so that we have entered the deepest pages of the book so far!” That, gentle reader, is a headscratcher. So there may or may not be a plot to this album. I’m not enlightened yet. Another confusing non-clue toward understanding Ya Te Vas? can be found in the liner notes: “All the places and characters in our game are purely fictional (although most are not purely functional, since they use mutation).” Guh? But when all hope for meaning and symbolism seems lost—Eureka!—the album cover: a loose tangram puzzle of a human being: segmented head, torso, arms, legs and feet. (Editor’s Note: a tangram is defined as “a Chinese puzzle consisting of a square cut into five triangles, a square, and a rhomboid, to be reassembled into different figures”. I looked it up so you don’t have to.) These same pieces are jumbled into a heap on Ya Te Vas?‘s back cover. Disjointedness and hodge-podge? Now we’re onto something… and I’ve got a hook for this review.
So yeah, it may have taken a couple hundred words to get to the point, but: Ya Te Vas? is a difficult, obtuse and disjointed record. It’s hardly unlistenable, but the rewards are buried deep. Alternating between lo-fi alternafolk and arena-ready riffage, [Minmae]—guitarist/singer Sean Brooks, bassist Josh Kempa and drummer Greg Murphy—provide the listener with constantly shifting sonic landscapes, especially on Side A. There’s no solid soil to be found, from the shambling post-Pavement “Forget to Mention”, to the crashing guitars of the curiously-titled “Circumspect. I Followed It”, to the backporch guitar duel of “Just Take Me as I Am”. Taken separately, each song is its own universe, with its own pace, logic and governing ideals (though what exactly does Brooks mean by the mantra, repeated on “Just Take Me as I Am”, of “I handle Mary and her gun / But I don’t pay the meter”? Did I mention the band is a tough nut to crack? When the universes collide, however, random rules. And what’s the universe but a swirling miasma, where sense is pulled from nothingness? That’s what [Minmae] sound like, only less pretentious sounding than what I just described.
On the album’s back half, [Minmae] play it slightly more straightforward, though their music is no less challenging. They settle into a fractured, fuzzy country-rock vibe and even allow some lyrical clarity: the quote “Waiting for your lover’s smile to hatch”, from “Your Lover’s Snatch” (even if it’s not dirty, a wince-inducing title, no?), is one of Ya Te Vas?‘s more lucid images. Several back-of-the-album tunes are extended jams, almost Neutral Milk Hotel-esque mini-suites: the swirling “The Unfettered Idealist” is surely the album’s sonic centerpiece, building slowly but steadily to the heavens, while Brooks’ guitar rains down sound onto the epic “I Was Buoyant”.
[Minmae] ask a lot of their listeners, or at least more than most bands. I tried untangling the web; maybe others will have better luck than I had. Not up for a challenge? Then just dig the spaced-out jams and genre-hopping. Either way, have fun with this musical brainteaser.