[26 July 2006]
If you think weighty song titles are only the domain of Sufjan Stevens, wander out of the indie-rock aisle and flip through the post-punk section until you come across Aleuchatistas. Hell, even their band name is ridiculously pretentious, fusing Charlie Parker’s song title “Ah-Leu-Cha” with the latter half of the word “Zapatista”, every college student’s favorite revolutionary movement. For an instrumental band, their own press sheet unloads more text (in tiny font, no less) than most regular indie-rock bands. However, instead of nonsensical verbiage trying to find a new way to praise the artist in question, it’s a thoughtful effort by the band at explaining the meaning behind their music.
The music itself is an exciting hybrid of jazz, punk and straight-up experimentalism. But when I reviewed their second album, The Same and the Other, I praised their prowess but ultimately panned the disc, as I felt the band failed to offer any compelling reasons for me to listen to it again. Dynamically static and almost completely grooveless (unless you’re already a fan of unconventional riffs), the music was nothing more than recorded aerobic finger exercises.
What You Will, the band’s third full-length, does much to rectify the rather stale atmosphere of their sophomore effort. I gather it’s due to a mix of better production and better songwriting, but Aleuchatistas has never sounded better. They seem free of the desire to prove themselves as able to create complex compositions. It doesn’t take longer than the first track for the band to actually (gasp) repeat a phrase. “Before the Law” is another fresh breath from the band: a wonderfully subdued, yet tense track that chain-smokes around quietly tricked-out riffs and cymbal washes running in on a constant tide. This is a much more confident band, one assured of their prowess and now willing to push themselves into new areas. Moreover, the music’s accessibility reaches far beyond avant fans, embracing anyone who loves adventurous music into its octopus arms.
Politics play an important role in the song titles and artwork accompanying Aleuchatistas’ albums. A quarter of the band’s press notes are devoted to explaining the meanings behind this album’s 14 obtuse track titles (why they don’t put these explanations in the actual CD artwork is somewhat baffling). “Shell in Ogoniland” is a fairly obvious statement on Shell’s controversial work in Nigeria. “Remember Rumsfield at Abu Gharib” is both a comment on human rights and a reference to Mingus’ “Remember Rockefuller at Attica”. The Iraq ruminations continue with “Ho Chi Minh Is Gonna Win”, while divine inspiration seems to have inspired “Last Spark From God”. The artwork for the CD seems to implicate soldiers as automatons.
The band’s political positioning is admirable, but like modern artwork that requires the audience to read reams of post-modern explanations to “get it,” What You Will‘s statements—without the press notes that critics receive—will amount to very little to those who pick up the disc. It’s a shame, as I’m sure the band has something far more intelligent to say than the kind of posturing that Green Day’s “activism” is being acclaimed for these days. Luckily, Aleuchatistas have delivered an exciting album, which contains the kind of depth and layers that the buzz around them has been promising. Lying somewhere between Ruins, John Zorn and John Coltrane, Aleuchatistas finally match their obviously forward-thinking structures with the energy of the punk rock movement they’ve long admired. The revolution may not sound pretty, but it definitely brings the thrill of the unexpected and the urgency of the underground.