Review Summary: Say what you want, but these guys are still the best experimental avant-garde dream math pop rockers around.
The sanity of Tera Melos is in question. With the release of Patagonian Rats in 2010, I was probably not alone in wrestling with the notion that perhaps they have gone sane. The group went from crafting exquisitely executed instrumental math rock to crafting airy alt rock with vocals. One might hesitate to call it progression; instead of baffling us with the extreme instrumentation prevalent on their early releases, Tera Melos now runs mostly on dream-pop vocals and noticeably less technicality. Patagonian Rats was their first serious foray into this new territory, although hints of this new style showed on Complex Full of Phantoms, and it was a mixed bag. Many thought it was the end of the band, while some people swallowed mild disappointment to enjoy Patagonian Rats for what it was. Fast forward to three years later, and Tera Melos is continuing to pursue this controversial new direction with follow up album “X’ed Out”.
Those familiar with their previous album will notice two major differences. Firstly, it is apparent that X’ed Out makes up for the blatant inconsistency found on Patagonian Rats. Hard-hitting songs are spaced out and buffered by dreamy effect-laden tunes, instead of being crammed together as they were on Patagonian. The result is that X’ed Out retains much of its momentum throughout, making for a more enjoyable sustained listen. I could not plow through Patagonian Rats the whole way through without changing the song, but I found that I could do so on this album effortlessly.
The second major difference is that the songs here are much more subdued than they were before. Each song, no matter how loud, has a more chilled-out atmosphere. The hooks are still there, but they are now more subtle, instead relying on fewer but still well-placed notes. The vocals enhance this by meshing closely with the guitar lines, as evident on the track “Bite”. Listeners must delve deeper and be equipped with a skilled musical ear to fully enjoy what the album has to offer. However, when Tera Melos chooses to indulge in the truly epic instrumental barrages they are known for, the result is glorious, due to the massive contrast with the softer passages. “Sunburn” and “Until Luftstanza” are prime examples of how effective this strategy can be, showcasing several paradoxical moments that are bombastic and serene at the same time. Tera Melos’s songwriting proficiency does not falter even when they throw newer textures into the mix. “No Phase” is a wholly dream pop song comprised of guitars and sustained by their trademark vocals, but it is oddly mesmerizing. “X’ed Out and Tired” follows along the same lines; despite being incredibly minimalist, it is a charming and effective end to the album, with its soft guitars and nostalgic electronics.
Despite the numerous claims I’ve heard, Tera Melos has by no means stagnated. While detractors will continue to bemoan the decrease in technicality, it can even be argued that the minimalist approach is more difficult; there is much less to work with when crafting effective songs. If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a Tera Melos fan, it’s that first and foremost, the lads are first class musicians. X’ed Out does nothing but validate this, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to dub it as the band’s most cohesive work since Drugs to the Dear Youth. Make no mistake, this is still Tera Melos, and they are still as insane as ever.