Reviews

Calla

Tobias Peterson
Calla

Calla

City: Austin, Texas
Venue: The Mercury
Date: 2003-05-29

Wooden flooring. Giant, pink globes of light. Hip twentysomethings lounging around on the floor in languid poses. Not exactly the kind of scene one might anticipate at a rock show. In fact, the sparse crowd and sparser threads of conversation that anticipated Calla's arrival onstage were more befitting a late night coffee house than a music venue. But as the band wordlessly took the stage, the audience rose to its feet, swelling in number and energy and the first otherworldly notes floated out to greet them. Founded in Texas but relocated to Brooklyn, Calla (kal-uh, not kai-yah) has a sound that defies regionalism, or even earthly comparison. Waves of atmospheric guitar lilt and rise before collapsing into harsh, staccato breaks, creating a tension between the beautiful and the gritty throughout their songs. Far above this swirling drum and guitar play is the breathy voice of Aurelio Valle, a distant yet insistent whisper that adds still another layer to the rich mixture of sound. Valle teams with drummer Wayne Magruder and bassist Sean Donovan to craft songs with an astonishing degree of texture for a three piece. To more faithfully capture the fullness of their sound -- most recently available on their third album, Televise (Arena Rock) -- the band picked up a fourth member, guitarist Peter Gannon, for the tour. The result is a nearly flawless fidelity to their recordings, which (in this day of overproduction) is a rare and happy occurrence. Many a music fan knows the disappointment of paying good money to see a live act only to realize that it's the producer, not the talent onstage, responsible for their sound. Calla, however, was no disappointment. If anything, they surprised with the stirring renditions of their "ambient" material. Most critics use the term as a synonym for lackadaisical or sleepy tempos that care more about melody than rhythm. With chunky, metallic digressions, though, Calla were able to infuse their amorphous soundscapes with a quiet tension that lent urgency to these less structured abstractions. The song "Strangler", for example, was introduced with three successive, jarring collisions to Valle's guitar while Gannon picked out a higher, but equally ominous melody. Magruder and Donovan joined in (Magruder using, as he often did, one drumstick and one maraca to mark time) with a dark, jerky rhythm. Eventually, however, the song soared into an ethereal melody, a bright, slow glowing emerging from the initial promise of darkness. This juxtaposition, typical of Calla's sound, is both unique and effective. The band alternately lulls its audience with a shimmering flood of melodic feedback and jerks it back to attention with crunchy jerks and syncopated spasms -- or vice versa. Imagine tracing the unfolding path of a gently curving line, only to have it sporadically snap into hard, jagged angles. But all of this might make Calla's sound seem more calculated and detached than it really is. Hiding beneath the varied layers of sound is the faint and elusive idea of pop song. The band may not have people tapping their toes or striking a pose on the dance floor, but neither do they turn their backs on hooks and melodies. Rather, the melodic threads of Calla's work are stretched and refigured, warped into new forms that are at times expansive and, at others, compact. Rarely, however, are they in the recognizable form so favored by the three-minute ditties that populate mainstream radio waves. In short, Calla push further, as they did this night. With disjointed dissonance in one hand and ambient melodies in the other, Calla's live sound drew from both but was beholden to neither. The show, then, was part rock 'n' roll, part seance, in which ghosts were coaxed from amplifiers and dark voices were brought to light.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Music

GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".

Music

Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".

Music

Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.