Ahleuchatistas never shy away from politics, but they do not use voice to preach. Instead, they deal in a revelatory sort of politics that conveys tension through sound.
Things have changed in the world of Ahleuchatistas, as they always seem to. For five albums, the band operated as a guitar-bass-drums trio, and though the line-up changed, the music -- in all its dissonant, confrontational jazz-punk-rock fury -- continued to mesmerize and confound. The sound morphed; the sonic palate expanded a little more with each record; but at least in those common musical elements we could find a comfortable ground, a foundation on which to stand firm, even as these guys circled tangled compositions around us in barbed heaps.
Location Location, though, marks the band's first album as a duo. After 2009's excellent Of the Body Prone, bass player Derek Poteat left the band, leaving guitarist Shane Perlowin and drummer Ryan Oslance (who joined the band just before Of the Body Prone) to soldier on. What they've done as a duo here is awfully impressive. In losing a vital piece of their rhythm section -- Poteat's serpentine bass tumbled brilliantly all over their songs -- Perlowin and Oslance used the opportunity not to slim down but rather to stretch in new ways. Gone, mostly, are the terse squalls of distortion and cymbals that berated us awake in early records, replaced here with explorations of texture and sonic heft. They still grind, make no mistake, but this grind rumbles a bit deeper, opens up sinkholes under its own foundation. Songs crumble and reassemble, and two players somehow sound just as big and dynamic as three ever did.
For all the abstractions and rabbit holes in their sound, though, the title of Ahleuchatistas' record is surprisingly literal. The duo maintains the spontaneity of their sound by shifting locations for the recordings that make up this collection. Opener "Waterboarding" and the quick unruly burst of "Blind Way" were both recorded live in-studio, and each sounds fittingly ragged. Both players are sharp, of course, but while you can hear them drift away from each other only to circle back around and synch up, there's little that sounds planned about it. It's a sound of discovery as the last few guitar notes echo out alone at the end of "Blind Way" or as the seething layers of atmosphere fill up the space around Perlowin's tight guitar riff.
Elsewhere, we get the home-recorded "Mistaken Identity", which combines electronic beats made years ago with surprisingly soft tones from Perlowin's guitar. The tense-to-snapping, bunched-up notes yield to something more spacious and resonant here, which stands in stark contrast to "A Little Goes a Long Way". This track has the most obvious location, recorded live at a show at the Grey Eagle in Asheville, North Carolina. Perlowin's looped guitars push insistently forward, often rising up in sunbursts of jittery plinking, while Oslance slowly works his drumming up into a muscled fury. The song ends in a towering wall of distortion and crashing drums, and when it abruptly cuts out, the sound of the amazed audience is as jarring as the band's noise was.
If these new textures are inspired by place, then that somehow becomes a theme that manages to sustain itself through this dense instrumental record. Ahleuchatistas -- who take their name from a Charlie Parker composition -- do not shy away from politics, but they do not use voice to preach. Instead, they deal in a revelatory sort of politics that conveys tension through sound. Note the remarkable "Israel", which was the first recording Perlowin and Oslance made as a duo. The guitars sometimes erupt in quick, grit-toothed bursts, but Oslance's syncopated guitar work establishes a lower but constant tension one that pulls itself taut over the song's six minutes. There's also the dyspeptic groaning bubbles of sound on "No Sleep" that sound so damned isolating, removing you from place and filling you with the swirling thoughts that come from sleepless nights.
It's not that Ahleuchatistas have something to tell us about the state of things, it's that they, like us, live in the world, and their music is a simultaneously confused and confusing representation of that. We can feel both frustration and resistance, both fatigue and boundless energy. It's hard not to miss Poteat's bass a little here, the frantic arrhythmic heartbeat to their sound, but Perlowin and Oslance have managed a sound that doesn't feel hollowed out by that lack of bass. In fact, this low end -- achieved through layers of guitar, through those intricate drums, through endless dynamic layers of sound -- rumbles plenty, even if it doesn't quit cut through the buzz the way only bass can. Location Location never makes it easy for us, but when difficult music also sounds this striking from moment to moment, you'll be more than happy to lose where you are and follow Ahleuchatistas on this tour of the small places in the mountains of North Carolina, where they found their haunting sounds.