Music

Ahleuchatistas: Heads Full of Poison

Photo: Courtney Chappell

Heads Full of Poison is the kind of record that will push you into action, even just the action of listening. Because there's lots to hear on this record, lots to sift through.


Ahleuchatistas

Heads Full of Poison

US Release: 2012-09-25
UK Release: 2012-10-01
Label: Cuneiform
Amazon
iTunes

Moving from a trio to a duo before the release of their last album, Location Location, seems to have been a freeing experience for Ahleuchatistas' Shane Perlowin and Ryan Oslance. That album was their most expansive yet, a natural build on the tight squalls of their earlier records. Things became less about breakneck shifts, less about surgically sharp guitar riffs, and more about, as the title implies, both meaningful space and propulsion, getting somewhere.

Heads Full of Poison continues the band's ever-swelling sonic heft. More than ever, the focus here is on texture, a very careful layering of sounds that bolsters the immediacy of their playing. There's some overdubbing of guitars here, but the basic tracks – especially Oslance's masterful, labyrinthine drumming takes – were recorded live. The result is an album with a lot of secrets to reveal over repeated listens, but that intricacy doesn't dull the initial shock of these sounds, the striking power of these compositions. Ahleuchatistas were already one of the best instrumental bands working, and they may have hit a new high-water mark on their new album.

The title track tells us quite a bit about the album as a whole. Following edgy, Asian-influenced opener "Vanished" and shadowy mood piece "Future Trauma", "Heads Full of Poison" burns for more than 16 minutes. It's a song that recalls the strengths we already know about the band. Perlowin hits us with some intricate, palm-muted riffage that rises and falls over the negative space of the track's start. Oslance's tom work helps Perlowin stomp forward but also cast a longer shadow. It's also a song that shows the ways in which the band has grown. There are straight-up chord runs in the middle of the song, more rock and roll than the metal or punk we sometimes associate with these guys, that interplay with more snarling hooks. From there, we get start-and-stop angles that approximate some kind of desiccated funk music, which devolves into swirling atmosphere. As it falls into silence, the song reinvents itself with a few brittle notes as a dusty yet blistering throwdown. The band doesn't get particularly distorted, or even loud, but the sheer inertia the song builds is arresting. From that lean speed, they spread out and the song finally takes on the size it has been building to. It's got the propulsion, the impressive space, and the layers of guitar all working at the same time.

It's the brashest statement here, to be sure, but it also anchors the record, echoing out to mirror the more soft, pastoral roll of "Requiem to the Sea" as well as the tense build of "A Trap Has Been Set". By the time we hit "Starved March", the album's closer, we're down to gauzy guitar ringing and negative space, back to the foundation behind all the jittering sounds of the record. The ties between songs are tenuous, even ethereal, but as they announce themselves over multiple listens, the overall effect of Heads Full of Poison becomes clear and undeniable. This was a band once built on the punishing riff, the clattering howl of punk mixed with the unpredictable vamping of jazz. The new album makes clear, though, that things have changed, and yet the power of Ahleuchatistas' sound still grows.

Despite its looser structures, its overall straight-ahead feel and use of cleaner hooks and chords make this seem, in its own unique way, like the band's most rock-oriented album yet. It's also a logical continuation of the politics of sound they present in their work. Theirs is a sound of defiance, of pushing back against power structures, against elements of control, against the status quo. The constant yet slow expansion of their sound is a hopeful move, a mirror of a (again hopefully) growing consciousness, that people are starting to see the need for change, change of all kinds, and this bolstering sound, this expansive sonic palate, represents the growing strength of a breadth of voices speaking out. Maybe we are the heads full of poison, tired of being fed it, concocting our own cure with words, with sound, with communal movements. Or maybe those in power are the poisoned ones, and they've been exposed to too much, they're weakened, ready to fall, and we can lean on them with fresh ideas, with connection rather than division. One way or another, this is the sound of a change, one started or one coming, and Heads Full of Poison is the kind of record that will push you into action, even just the action of listening. Because there's lots to hear on this record, lots to sift through. Seven albums in, and Ahleuchatistas are still challenging us in ways that are surprisingly new and unsurprisingly beautiful.

8

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
6

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
Theatre

​'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
10

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
7

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
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

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

rating-image