Over the last five years, North Carolinian instrumental trio Ahleuchatistas has made four albums’ worth of music that proudly avoids repetition and repose. Almost always through-composed, and frequently played at bewilderingly fast speeds, their songs rarely let an idea last for more than 45 seconds before it is steamrolled by an entirely different idea. It’s a challenging sound, to say the least. It doesn’t shock me that experimental music legend John Zorn was fond enough of Ahleuchatistas to reissue their second album, 2004’s The Same and the Other, on his Tzadik label. Zorn’s endorsement should expose the band to thousands more listeners, the kind who don’t flinch when suffixes like “prog-” and “math-” are attached to their rock music. Everyone else, though, should probably steer clear.
After a three-second intro of blast beats straight out of a death metal record, opener “Cracked Teeth” runs through at least five distinct sections in less than three minutes. At the beginning of the song, drummer Sean Dail crams so many snare rolls and hi-hat trills into his rhythms that he almost falls out of sync with the rest of the band. At another point, the song takes a 12-second detour into funk before launching into a series of false endings. The song peaks when guitarist Shane Perlowin and bassist Derek Poteat start wrenching abrasive screeches and diddles from their instruments. Their ability to make such a racket is pretty impressive, considering that both Perlowin and Poteat play sans effects.
The most approachable songs on The Same and the Other are those in which the band either allows ideas to repeat themselves, or bridges them smoothly enough to imply some sort of linear progression. On “Imperceptibility”, the trio runs two central riffs through every possible permutation it can think of – adding and subtracting notes, applying odd syncopations, shoehorning them into odd meters – without letting its skittishness disrupt the song’s momentum. “Good Question” boasts a long, unaccompanied guitar solo in which Perlowin wanders up and down Middle Eastern scales in a way that would make Sir Richard Bishop proud. During the mid-section of “Lee Kyang Hae”, the band jams on a melancholy four-chord riff for such a surprisingly long time that I wonder if their beers were spiked with Adderall when they recorded it.
The reissued version of The Same and the Other appends the original album with five bonus tracks from the same sessions that find the band engaging in full-on improvisation – which, frankly, isn’t their strong suit. These tracks basically sound like Perlowin and Poteat strangling their instruments while Dail practices paradiddles. The original album was already an exhausting listen at 28 minutes; increasing the running time to 46 turns it into the kind of ordeal that only Trumans Water completists would enjoy in its entirety.
The members of Ahleuchatistas are outspoken about their political motivations: the first part of the band’s name comes from the famous Charlie Parker tune, the second from the infamous Mexican revolutionary group. I suspect that the band’s music is intentionally designed to imitate the tumult of modern life. If so, then it may be a bit TOO successful. Just as watching a news anchor tell tales of violence and turmoil for a half-hour can compel me to seek refuge in even the most insipid sitcom, if only to remind myself how to laugh again, listening to The Same and the Other could compel many listeners to reach for the nearest Rihanna CD, if only to remind themselves how to dance and sing along to music again.