Review Summary: Patagonian Rats kicks ass and doesn't bother taking names. The band's usual jazz is all but gone. In its place is intimate and intuitive pop. It doesn't take itself seriously. Warm music.
Math rock. Tera Melos itself hates the term, or at least the term as applied to their band, which is itself a creative melting pot of intuitive IDEAS, not necessarily even genres. But people call them math rock--hell, even I have more than a few times. An ideal tag, though, right? Hordes of weird chord progressions, tons of odd times, these have always been characteristics of Tera Melos’ music, and, well, also of math rock in general, so the pigeonholing is understandable: we see a name somewhere, ergo something must be given that name. Math rock. Tera Melos. Tera Melos is math rock. Math rock is Tera Melos.
That really PISSES THEM OFF, hah. Aptly, the term they think best for their band’s brand of music is simply Experimental, with which I too happen to agree. Despite what characteristics they may share with whomever else, people who’ve heard that one band called Tear Melos know it’s Tera Melos when that one band (oh yeah, Tera Melos) is blasting from their car speakers. A taste for virgin tongues: they’ve never shied away from crafting catchy melodies, nor have they from totally deconstructing those selfsame melodies, and thereby kicking their steel-toe boots through our ears’ teeth, which were themselves still getting acquainted with the temperature of their former aural food. But, somehow, the band makes even our teeth taste good.
I don’t know about you guys, but I relish wallowing in my own incomprehension, tasting my teeth bashed in by a boot. I ***ing LOVE the idea of my mind never being able to cover completely the surface of some abstract object, even when I can see it and move around it, view it from all angles. It somehow makes it eternal, through my naiveté. There’s a Samuel Beckett quote I love from his novel Molloy, which I also love, here:
“And I said, with rapture, Here is something I can study all my life, and never understand.”
Which rings so truly for me and my love of Tera Melos. The distinction I make between Tera Melos and the genre MATH ROCK: Tera Melos, unlike most in that genre, has soul. Their music is a spring of unnamable emotion, which is incredible, because, usually, I couple technical mastery with emotional boredom: it seems most bands whose technical skill is way up there are the ones whose music is so mechanical and contrived I really couldn’t give a damn. Yeah man, we can play sooper dooper difficult music, and that is our only goal, we lost the right side of each of our brains when we were kiddies, it was that creepy piano teacher, yeah, you know how that goes, I’m a serial killer when I’m not writing music, meh. [Stare vacantly and indifferently.] But, for real, don’t use technicality as an excuse not to use your tool of expression, music, to . . . express. I mean, there are infinite ways in art whereby to express, but you sure can tell when the band doesn’t really have much to be expressed. It just sounds dead and smelly. Old potato chips. That yellow sock or napkin you used to clean up the . . . uh, so,
so, yeah, I’ve established why I love Tera Melos. Soul in the music. Something of what has helped them do this in the past two releases is their jazz (which, even though it smells funny, is NOT DEAD). Jazz itself is of course a beautiful genre, perhaps one of the most sincere and innate spiritually . . . as formless as the air from one’s lungs to one’s reed, or whatever the hell else, um, as formless as the time between each improvised strike of a string, there. It really is a love supreme. And Tera Melos took advantage of that immediate emotional impact in their former two releases, their untitled album and Drugs to the Dear Youth, both of which caught the attention of a good number of people, and it was those people who thence knew there was something about Tera Melos which was different from other “math rock” bands. Their music back then was suitably formless. The drums often went off gone out had a good time, did their own thing, like,
Peace, Mr guitar and Mr bass, I’ll just be over here rocking out a little bit.
Oh it’s cool Mr drums, we should all still listen to each other, and meet up at really cool parts, hit heads yeah.
*** yeah man.
And so we get two intense releases, full of energy, emotion, everything which makes music so goddamned great. It WORKED, you know. Like much of my favorite music, it had this deeper connection, one which sunk beneath the skin, blew bubbles at my brain, gave me shivers. I really felt they knew what they were doing, they really knew how to dig inside the mind of the listener. Just great masses of music.
So now we have Patagonian Rats, which seems to have originated from a different species entirely, or maybe there was cross-breeding involved, I don’t know. The jazz which really characterized Tera Melos before is all but gone here. In its place is pop. If you’re one of those people who goes GRR in the face of pop, ease up because the band hasn’t lost any of their edge. They’re still doing their instrumental pyrotechnics through all those fiery hoops and on all that hot coal and whatnot--hordes of weird chord progressions, tons of odd times--but they’re taking that emotional intensity into the realm of pop and rock. And, come on, Tera Melos has always been a pop band: their music has always been ridiculously catchy . . . for people who have the patience for music whose reliance lies partially in improvisation, their first two albums could be considered FULL of contagious hooks.
Those albums were also, however, smoother affairs--because of that jazzier aspect. Everything was much looser, even if paradoxically unpredictable. Here things are quite jerkier, but it’s in a good sense. In terms of only energy, it FEELS like a tight post-hardcore album (the pace alone, especially how quickly the first several songs go by, kept reminding me of Relationship of Command): up-tempo songs fling off neon walls like zigzag confetti and lego blocks of any shape you like. It’s all bright colors in thick cartoon lines.
The album introduces itself with a three-song suite (So Occult, Kelly, The Skin Surf). It begins quiet and simple (So Occult), then goes loud and simple (Kelly), then goes loud and complex (The Skin Surf), all of which bring to the Patagonian party an infectious array of vocal and instrumental (looney) tunes. So Occult and Kelly are straightforward enough--your foot won’t have any trouble gently tapping to the thunderous drums raining down on poor Kelly, and you won’t have any trouble discerning the nostalgic undertones in the music, and in the . . . lyrics, as the singer sings, “We’re jumping out of our skin tonight / Something took my brain for a ride / Now we’re carving out your name / and forgot just how to say it / I guess it’s off to bed then for now / I’ll have to call you later / I’ll call you later.”
It’s for best everything starts on this clean and breathable surface, because it is THESE two tracks that effectively START the album with a simple but powerful push. One to get you into the deep end--because you wouldn’t dare go alone. The deep end itself STARTS when The Skin Surf says, Go.
Welcome to the “something took my brain for a ride” part of the album.
What you’ll notice right away, and what I haven’t really gone into much yet, are the vocals, which are hardly recognizable as such in the untitled album and which are virtually nowhere in Drugs. Instead of asserting this new asset as The New Tera Melos Thing, the band has found a way to make the vocals seem utterly innate, just a logical extension from the rest of the music. In all four corners of this album, they bloom their brilliant poppy petals comfortably in fields of music already dense with yellow brick roads and tall green towers and crazy Dorothys and lions and tigers and bears, oh my.
The bizarro landscape Tera Melos has built with strings and percussion is brought to truly kinetic life--as mentioned before--not by the spirituality of jazz but by the frenetic energy of pop and rock. Hooks swing from the ceiling and catch you and drop you a few floors, whereupon you’re snatched by another, and you’re everywhere, in every direction, wide-eyed to the musical spectacle about you. It can be overwhelming. But, however strange this ride, it is never a detached occasion . . . there is always a friend beside you, the music is always there smiling, and both of you are screaming at the top of your lungs, from the bottom of your throat. It’s as if the music itself doesn’t exactly know where it will go. Nobody takes oneself seriously here, *** you, this is a celebration of innocence. There is a calming familiarity, there is a friendship, there is an intimacy,
BUT FREDDY KREUGER IS CHASING YOU! Something like that, the unpredictability of it all. The whole experience is like going to new universes (or galaxies, or continents, or countries, or regions, or cities, or houses, or rooms, or drawers, or Narnia) with someone there, it makes the experimentation not so scary. (Best example: Another Surf--this section of a song (it’s basically a continuation of Party with Gina’s outro) is basically one 15/8 riff repeated a million times over, it’s boisterous, ugly, and repetitive, but never does it sound uninviting or unpleasant. Nah, it’s so exaggerated its angst is more silly and whimsical than it is RUFF AND TUFF SRS BIZNESS. It just sounds like a good time, if not a little wild.) It takes the spooky avant-garde and twists its oblong shape into a Van Gogh bouquet of flowers.
It is in this way the album maintains its consistency. Songs climb the ropes up and down, sidle the sides of buildings left and right, disappear like Houdini from their cages, forget themselves, forget everything but themselves, remember something, forget to remember, remember to forget . . . they essentially do everything you would expect not to expect, but, guess, what, you’re always there, Tera Melos never forgets you, you’re always in their warm embrace. The band tosses out the vague sentimentality and heads straight for the heart and head, straight for sincerity, even if it’s goofy, or ironically ironic.
This album will be their most accessible, if only because its deep intimacy lies in a general style of music with which more people are familiar. Tera Melos has proven, however, that they can shift into whatever shapes they like, into whatever color, and still be distinctive, not because of technicality, but because of the soul, the unnamable, in the music.
P.S. (I didn’t know where to put this in the review) Don’t be wary of the album because of the track Frozen Zoo. This is, like, an interlude in the album. Crucial breathing room for an otherwise breathless album. And once you hear it in context, I can 20% guarantee you that you will at least appreciate its intentionally minimalist technique as successful contrast for everything else.
P.P.S. About the Recommendations:
Time of Orchids' Namesake Caution only because it is also a very poppy album (a bit more inaccessible, however, and pretty dark, and dissonant) and at the same time ridiculously technical. In my opinion, this is the only "mathy" album I've heard that successfully incorporates the warmth of pop (hooks everywhere, vocals dreamy, etc.) without dumbing itself down. Seriously, crazy album.
The Beatles' Abbey Road only because of the fifteen-or-so minute medley at the end. All of it is fairly disparate at first, but they all fit together so well, which reminded me of the somewhat collage-like nature of some of Tera Melos' songwriting.
Cheer-Accident's Introducing Lemon only because of technicality with the lighthearted tone.