Review Summary: Fully integrated and busy instrumental rock with great grooves and melodic ideas, but absolutely no cohesiveness.
For all of my life, I’ve always been drawn towards music with climaxes, music that never stayed flat in terms of dynamics. To me, all music should be going somewhere or coming from somewhere. The purpose of each note is to get to the next one, to provide a bridge between the notes that come before and after it. Like a strand of DNA, each note is simply a part of something bigger than itself. In a way, Tristeza applies this DNA metaphor to their music, but in a much different way. Instead, each song is something bigger, more like chromosomes comprising one organism. The music, unlike most post rock, is very groove based and uptempo. However, in terms of dynamics, any change is too subtle and subdued to be realized. Tristeza hails from San Diego, California with a sound that draws late night California- a hip, upbeat, and cultural swirl of melodies and grooves. They formed in 1997, keeping the same members together for a good 6 years. However, founding guitarist Jimmy LaValle left to head his side project, The Album Leaf, full time. After a break to regroup and search for LaValle’s replacement, the band returned with A Colores in 2005, their first full length since 2002. LaValle’s replacement turned out to be Alison Ables. She is a perfectly potent guitarist, but the absence of LaValle and his prominence in the songwriting process allowed the band to take steps in a new direction.
A Colores certainly blends different colors and textures. It takes the Tristeza of old, with fantastic guitar interplay and odd time signatures that combine to create fantastic, natural grooves with a newfound fascination with electronica. The keyboards, while always in the band, take a much more prominent role, adding new melodies while providing variety and underlying texture to the normally flat sound of the band. Bromas
, the opening track on the album, gives hints towards the new sound. A palm muted guitar, an upbeat high hat drum groove, and a contrasting bass groove to complement it take center stage, but behind it, swells of luscious chords fade in and out, giving something more to listen to than just the groove. The band then expands upon the groove, making the meter odder but still making it groove. No matter how complex Tristeza gets, everything feels natural and grooves. As with most of Tristeza’s songwriting style, the song simply expands upon the original groove with new melodies and layers.
La Tierra Sutil
, while still maintaining the core Tristeza sound, is a bit of a departure for the band. The keyboard takes the main melody for most of time. Easily the coolest part of the song comes near the beginning, where the tempo and energy settles down to brew in a slow, almost bluesy groove with hard guitar strums on beats 2 and 4. The groove comes completely unexpected and changes the entire mood of the song. However, the groove is short lived, only playing twice through, and it goes back into the normal Tristeza style. As a whole, La Tierra Sutil
uses different melodic ideas and a completely different feel from what Tristeza normally does. The next song, however, could be considered the quintessential Tristeza song. Liquid Pyramids
has no real main theme, it just revels in guitar interplay and energy. The guitar parts by themselves are incredibly simple, but their integration makes the music seem much more complicated. Each melodic idea is great, but its main issue comes in being able to tie them together.
Eventually, Liquid Pyramids
becomes background music. As it was the quintessential Tristeza song, the passing of Liquid Pyramids
parallels a full listen through the album. A Colores gets lost in a blend of guitar melodies and nothing to really catch onto. Every song is incredibly transient, expanding upon themes and building new melodies with every chance the band gets. Still, the lack of dynamics and cohesiveness makes the album ambiguous. The band has potential with their playing, as every member plays confidently and adjusts to every groove perfectly, but they need to work on songwriting and creating a cohesive whole. Taking the album in small increments is the best choice, as one should be able to focus on each song and thoroughly without getting lost in the busy sound.
La Tierra Sutil