Ahleuchatistas – Heads Full of Poison [9/25/12] – Cuneiform Rune 347, 58:10 ****:
(Shane Perlowin – guitar, bass, effects; Ryan Oslance – drums)
North Carolina’s Ahleuchatistas (pronounced AH-LOO-CHA-TEES-TAS) has never been a band to easily pin down. The experimental rock outfit blends jazz, drone, ambient, noise rock, classical, garage rock, space rock, and other elements into sharply-pointed, volatile instrumentals. Even the group’s name is a mash up of disparate bits, combining Charlie Parker’s be-bop tune “Ah-Leu-Cha” with the Mexican insurgents, the Zapatistas, who were involved in the Mexican Revolution movement.
On Heads Full of Poison, Ahleuchatistas’ seventh release, and third for the Cuneiform label, the duo of founder Shane Perlowin (guitar, bass and effects) and drummer Ryan Oslance (who joined in time to record 2009’s Of the Body Prone) create another sonic concoction of unconventional and ever-advancing ideas. This is the second album since Ahleuchatistas was reduced to a twosome, and is the group’s most focused, largely because much of the material was developed over a two year period by being hardened in front of audiences and refined during those performances (Ahleuchatistas has a devoted cult fan base). Heads Full of Poison is available as a CD, was sold as a limited edition LP, and as a digital download. This review refers to the compact disc version.
The emphasis throughout the nine tracks, strewn across an hour, is texture and a precise stratum of sounds. The album’s first half includes the oldest compositions, which fuse pre-arranged portions with improvisation. Perlowin and Oslance open with the jittery, Asian-induced “Vanished,” which is juxtaposed by stimulated, disruptive guitar riffs which echo Chinese, string-plucked tones; and percussive components which range from hearty bass drum hits to lightly brushed cymbals. That is followed by the spectral mood piece “Future Trauma,” a seven-minute, mini-squall which includes capacious and ambient stages which have an organic feel, and roiling shards of noise which erupt from the depths, similar to Swans’ auditory brutality. That is but a warm-up to the centerpiece, the epic, 16-minute title track. It’s here where Ahleuchatistas’ aural palette covers the widest spectrum, from aesthetic drones to post-rock, and where Perlowin liberally makes use of intricate guitar patterns and overdubs. There are straightforward chord runs, traditional rock music parts, more Asian-inflected arpeggios, as well as some of the avant-garde minimalism which was a touchstone for early Sonic Youth. The rhythm jumps a few notches at the middle mark, and the duo rides steep inertia, which is strikingly dismantled by a stop-start-stop segment. “Heads Full of Poison” is a cathartic, long-form creation which has propulsion, impressive employment of space, and levels of guitar and percussion which may remind some of composer Glenn Branca’s early works.
The CD’s other half features the latest tunes, consolidated on stage on the duo’s two-month European tour last year. These tracks present a more deliberate slant, less chaotic and somewhat less tense. “Wisps” maintains a challenging stratagem, but is bolstered by a wirier percussive impact and less forceful guitar. Then there is the flowing, aquatic sway of “Requiem to the Sea,” where Perlowin is both atmospheric and does some surf-rock riffs comparable to those crafted by the Mermen, and Oslance uses rolling cymbals to mirror waves across a dark ocean. A hint of the Mermen’s surf-music psychedelia also permeates “A Way Out,” where a sitar-like tone also prevails. The band returns to stormy aspects on the elongated “A Trap Has Been Set,” where recurring elements stretch and strengthen. The program closes with the tranquil “Starved March,” gentle enough to cause a listener to wonder if they have wandered onto someone else’s record. Hearing this, after the CD’s initial commotion, produces the realization Ahleuchatistas has defied expectations, even their own.
TrackList: Vanished; Future Trauma; Heads Full of Poison; Lighted Stairs; Wisps; Requiem for the Sea; A Way Out; A Trap Has Been Set; Starved March.
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