Rodrigo y Gabriela‘s latest album, In Between Thoughts, A New World, spawned from lead guitarist Rodrigo discovering the philosophy of nondualism during his 2020 recovery from COVID-19. That philosophy, which begins with the idea that everything is connected through one single pure consciousness, inspired the duo to create new music. That music charts the duo’s journey to understanding this philosophy, making In Between Thoughts, A New World an instrumental concept record.
One doesn’t need to follow Rodrigo y Gabriela’s spiritual enlightenment to enjoy and embrace the music. However, that journey affected the duo from a musical standpoint, which finds them expanding their sound beyond their traditional “two acoustic guitars” setup. For most of this record, Rodrigo straps on an electric guitar, making for a marked change in tone. For her part, Gabriela continues to strum and pound away acoustically, anchoring the album in the classic Rodrigo y Gabriela sound. Also on board is the Bulgarian Symphony Orchestra, adding strings and percussion to many of the tracks to give the album a large, full sound.
In Between Thoughts, A New World‘s opening song, “True Nature”, wastes no time putting all these elements front and center. A fast-moving introduction with a straightforward strumming pattern gets the music moving. A squealing tire sound hits around the 13-second mark, and Rodrigo comes in with his electric guitar lead. Gabriela’s rhythm playing, where she thumps her guitar as much as she strums it, is high in the mix. Rodrigo cranks the reverb at the bridge, moving into a spaghetti western tone. It’s a brief moment, but memorable. Also distinct is the moment when Gabriela stops the strum, and the duo briefly plays something more ethereal. That also passes quickly, though, and the song returns to its central theme with a big, string-accentuated finish.
“Egoland” retains some Western feeling while piling on several distinct electric guitar lines. It opens with a syncopated guitar that gives the track a groove. Gabriela quickly joins in, chunking a steady rhythm. Next, a melody line with a bit of wah pedal sound enters, and finally, a slide guitar shows up, shifting up and down in pitch. The second time the opening guitar theme appears, it’s altered to more of a straight-ahead feel. The third time around, the reverb is there, and so are the strings to bring in the Western style. With Gabriela’s steady rhythm and a distinctive main melody, “Egoland” is easy to follow despite all the stylistic shifts.
While the bulk of In Between Thoughts, A New World is upbeat without quite hitting the breakneck tempos of the duo’s earlier days, there are a few exceptions. “The Eye That Catches the Dream” begins as a Latin-flavored ballad, with Gabriela playing soft chords while Rodrigo gently solos over the top on an acoustic guitar. A dreamy transition allows Gabriela to switch to arpeggios while Rodrigo continues to solo. Around the 1:30 mark, Rodrigo switches over to electric, and the song picks up its pace. The strings enter a bit later, and the track chugs along, but it returns to the soft ballad feel to finish it.
“Finding Myself Leads Me to You” has a kind of ’80s late-night rock feel filtered through Rodrigo y Gabriela. It’s moody and contemplative, and the part-time addition of the orchestral strings and percussion takes the song to the edge of bombastic without teetering over. When it returns to the opening feel, a robotic voice sings the song title. Vocals remain a rarity for the group, so this is a genuine surprise.
“Descending to Nowhere” opens with an acoustic guitar riff from Gabriela, a rare moment out front for her. Rodrigo plays off her riff, holding off for a full minute before bringing in an electric guitar melody. Once he does, the song kicks into a strong groove before backing off into a more spacey section. Eventually, Rodrigo brings back the same electric guitar melody, restoring the groove. It’s an excellent example of what the duo does well on this record. They have strong, memorable melodies and rhythms that don’t need audio pyrotechnics to be interesting.
For a band with a notable background in heavy metal, one might expect Rodrigo to turn up the distortion now that he’s using an electric guitar. That’s mostly not the case, with one exception. “Broken Rage” begins with a couple of seconds of feedback and jumps right into a squalling blues-rock guitar tone before shifting into a more typical Rodrigo y Gabriela style about 20 seconds later. That distorted riff returns once in the middle and then at the end to close the track. The strings here are more active than usual, giving the song extra propulsion. Then there’s the solo. Rodrigo goes full-on guitar hero with shredding and string bends, and it’s fun to hear him cut loose.
With nine songs and just over 33 minutes in length, In Between Thoughts, A New World is compact and entertaining. Even with Rodrigo favoring the electric guitar and the presence of the string section, this doesn’t feel like a radical reinvention for the duo. Letting Gabriela continue to do her usual thing goes a long way toward keeping the sound grounded.