Ahleuchatistas can turn on a dime, but their catalog suggests a longer view, more long-term growth than rapid-fire shifts.
Over eight albums, Asheville, North Carolina's Ahleuchatistas have built a sound in slow bloom. Even as they group pared down a few years back from a trio to a drum and bass duo, the sound of each record feels like an expansion of the previous one. Though you could hear hints of that expanse on the band's 2003 debut On the Culture Industry, Ahleuchatistas largely cut their teeth and got noticed on the terse, punk-fueled outbursts of 2004's The Same and the Other and 2006's What You Will. From there though the band weaved its way through the improvisational twists and compositional turns in Of the Body Prone; through the new space and sonic textures of Location Location; through the mix of careful layering and live energy on Heads Full of Poison; and now they've landed on their next, and also excellent album, Arrebato.
The album's title, which is Spanish for "passionate outburst", suggests that the band's urgency has not faded over time. That much is clear on the brilliant rumble of opener "Sundowning". Drummer Ryan Oslance lays down a rippling, syncopated beat, and guitarist Shane Parish starts the song with a faint, tumble down hook. He overlays some atmospheric fills here and there, but the song never loses its shuffling rhythm. The insistence of the beat never lets up, but Oslance shifts from the snare to the toms to let the guitar have the spotlight, or he moves to rim taps and high-hat to build tension.
"Sundowning" perfectly captures the band's long-established strengths for pulling songs taut without snapping them into a mess. The tension would be enough to make you grit your teeth, if it weren't for another, now fully realized strength in the band's sound: space. The band has always used space well, but Ahleuchatistas often scraped out songs only to fill them up again, sometimes slowly and sometimes all in one huge blast. Arrebato finds them playing with gradations of space, areas that are neither hollow nor dense, but somewhere in between. The squal and snap that ends "Sundowning" leads into the surreal textures of "Rincon Pio Sound", where the drums calm to a leaner but no less steady beat and the guitars ring out into space softly rather than slashing at the darkness. It is, like so many of the best parts of Arrebato, deeply in the moment and yet somehow reflective. The album seems to capture an immediate energy, and yet the mind behind all that physicality seems deep in meditation.
The album's lynchpin is the nine-plus-minute "La Faena". The guitars continue to cascade outward before bottoming out in quick-plucked, tight notes. Oslance is in charge of making the space here, and he does so perfectly, using rim taps and tambourines to echo out into the seeming endless expanse around them. The song feels, more than any other moment on the record, like a back and forth between Parish and Oslance. The drums create the landscape and the guitars pogo their way across it. This back and forth, this near call-and-response, make the moments of convergence all the stunning, especially on the song's beautifully layered second half, where shimmering layers of cymbals and treated guitar sound out one moment let the notes ring into nothingness the next.
There's no fear of not making noise on this record. The silence around the players can do as much work as the sounds they work up. And even if these sounds feel meditative and transcendent, they haven't lost any of their aggressive edge. "Power With" is as heavy and furious a song as you'll find in all of the Ahleuchatistas' catalog, while "Shelter in Place" is perhaps the most challenging composition here or on any other record. With its pulsing noise and clattering explosions, it plays like an interruption to the meditative nature of the record at first, until the song really settles in. Leading out of "Shelter in Place" and into the shadowy close of "Erosion", the song suggests that even revolution, in all its violence and near chaos, can feel meditative, even healing.
At around 34 minutes, Arrebato comes in 24 minutes shorter than its predecessor, Heads Full of Poison. Yet the album feels every bit as expansive and exploratory as that record, if not more so. Song to song, moment to moment, Ahleuchatistas is a band that can turn on a dime. But their catalog suggests a longer view, not so much fitful change as willful and extended evolution. It's impossible to compare one record to the next in the band's fine line of work, so to call Arrebato the duo's best would miss the point. But this much is clear: it does what few albums can do. It's immediate yet resonant, aggressive yet nuanced, and it is -- moment by moment -- exhilarating in its ability to surprise.