Ahleuchatistas: Of the Body Prone

Five albums in, this frenetic sound, built on lean riffs exploding into distorted quakes and a defiant, untethered rhythm section, is as fresh and as brilliant as it's ever been.


Of the Body Prone

US Release: 2009-09-29
Label: Tzadik
UK Release: import
Artist Website

To call Ahleuchatistas a punk-jazz trio -- a label that has, in different permutations, been put on them often -- does not prepare the listener for what they're about to hear. Even certain PopMatters critics have compared them to the Minutemen, at least in part, and that feels in retrospect like it doesn't quite match up to the task of describing what it is this North Carolina outfit do. Ahleuchatistas are instrumental for a reason: Words don't enhance their sound. They wouldn't explain the feeling, the strife, the chaotic sprawl of their sound. To string phrases together over this music would be to assign a structure that wouldn't keep. And to do the same to give it cultural import, to evaluate it in some way, seems sort of futile.

And yet, here we are. The band's fifth album, Of the Body Prone, gives us much to try to talk about. Or at least to approach. Just because it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to fully capture the band's effect doesn't mean it's not worth taking a shot. This is difficult stuff, but goddamn is it interesting and intricate and confusing and infuriating and beautiful all at once. And their frenetic sound -- built on lean riffs exploding into distorted quakes and a rhythm section constantly and violently pulling at its restraints -- is as fresh, and as brilliant as it's ever been, now five albums in.

There are facts we can address about Of the Body Prone. This is their first album of new material for Tzadik, the label that reissued their excellent sophomore album, The Same and the Other. This also marks the first studio work for the band's new drummer, Ryan Oslansce. But there's hardly a learning curve for the new guy behind the kit. In fact, this is the band's most adventurous and untethered offering yet. The structures of these songs have an intricacy that trumps anything the band has done before. The trio also explore their improvisational side here more than they ever have on record. The results, always compelling, can also be off-putting. That's part of the point, to put you on edge and get your attention. Ahleuchatistas do that without ever falling into self-serious wanking.

The album is book-ended by two huge compositions. "2/3 Concensus on the Un-Finite Possibilities" and "Map's Tattered Edges" both clock in around nine minutes. Both are unhinged swaths of grinding space punctuated by dense squalls of noise. The opening track starts with a cacophony of guitars and bass swirling around only to be brought to a crashing halt, over and over again, by tumbling drum fills. Eventually the band pulls it all together, guitar and drums charging with an insistent drive while the bass thunders droning notes over it, leading the song into a psychedelic haze of stringy riffs and cymbal work that crumbles into a beautiful mess.

Meanwhile "Map's Tattered Edges" closes the record with a subtle, moody atmosphere, at least for most of its sprawling runtime. It starts with the band's signature brash tangles of sound but quickly settles into distant hums of sound, the clanging of small bells, huge swaths of silence around it all. After an album pulled taut, to the point of snapping, it's a beautiful and haunting coda. But it also doesn't last. The band erupts in one last charge towards the end of the track. The guitars bust out riffs, squeal with feedback, the drums shatter cymbals and crash into the snare. And then a few vines of notes pull free of the tangle and drift off to end the album, letting the whole mess you've heard ripple.

In between those two tracks, there's all kinds of surprising energy to be found. The insistent, intricate thump of the rhythm section on "Owls". The off-time, disintegrating haze of "Why Can We Be In Jamaica?" The breakneck free-jazz explosion of "Eastside Uptight". There's even a glimpse at some dark humor, as "Dancing With the Stars" is five minutes of dissonant, droning noise.

Thoughout Of the Body Prone, Ahleuchatistas prove once again how surprising they can be as a band. This kind of improvised jamming is supposed to lose its element of surprise over time, not build on it. Considering the fact they're still doing it with a simple guitar-bass-drums set-up, that they continue to expand their sonic palate and deliver great record after great record, sticking to a unique sound without ever repeating themselves, it an amazing feat. It may leave you at a loss for words. But that indefinable thing, that feeling you can't shape into words on your lips? Make no mistake, it is there on this record, and it is powerful.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.