January 20, 2005

Ahleuchatistas "The Same and The Other"

In my review of North Carolinian trio Ahleuchatistas’ debut album On the Culture Industry, I dismissed their music as garden-variety math-rock. All three musicians played with an impressive amount of skill, and their songs were crammed with changes in key, meter, tempo and dynamics. However, the same could be said about every other math-rock band on the planet, and
Ahleuchatistas didn’t distinguish themselves from the pack much. The band’s politically charged name (which pays tribute to both Charlie Parker’s “Ah-leu-Cha” and the Mexican Zapatista radicals) and the album’s astonishing artwork couldn’t compensate for the blandness of the actual music. The band only had one or two good ideas per song, which were often abandoned quickly and buried in a sea of bad ideas.

Fortunately, the band’s follow-up The Same and the Other has made me eat my words. This time around, the band keeps things short and sweet. Both of their albums have 12 tracks apiece but, at a concise 29 minutes, The Same and the Other is less than half as long as its predecessor. However, both the band’s attention deficit disorder and through-composition songwriting method remain intact. Opener “Cracked Teeth” runs through at least nine distinct riffs in less than three minutes, and the next 11 tracks are no less busy. The main difference between this album and Ahleuchatistas’ debut is that this time the riffs stay in your head, even if the band only plays them once or twice.

As usual, Ahleuchatistas play their songs with nothing but guitar, bass and drums, with no effects pedals or studio trickery (sans a bit of distortion here and there). Guitarist Shane Perlowin is still fond of playing clean single-note melodies --- occasionally in a completely different meter than the rhythm section --- though he’s not averse to slashing power chords. On “Good Question,” Shane strums his guitar so furiously during the intro that he knocks his strings out of tune for the rest of the song. Later on in the song, he executes a solo with leaping intervals and squirrelly string bends that sound almost sitar-like. On their previous album, bassist Derek Poteat was the member who made the most noise, but this time his lines are cleaner and thicker. He takes an excellent Mike Watt-style solo in “Falling Bards,” begins “Rpg2” with an ominous riff that could’ve come straight out of a Tool record, and throughout the rest of the album, supports Perlowin’s playing with lots of meaty chords. Last but certainly not least is drummer Sean Dail, who from the album’s opening seconds onward asserts himself as the King of the Snare and Hi-Hat. He executes snare rolls and open/closed hi-hat combinations that require the kind of hand/foot coordination that drummers everywhere (myself included) envy.

The band’s implicit political bent also remains intact. The Same and the Other has even better artwork than its predecessor. The cover consists of two black-veiled Muslim women --- one of whom holds a baby crying tears of blood --- shielding themselves from bombs dropped by a overhead jet. Okay, so we know that they’re against the war in Iraq. One of the album’s most accessible songs, “Lee Kyang Hae,” is named after an elderly Korean farmer who killed himself in public at the 2003 World Trade Organization talks in Cancun as an act of protest. Don’t think for a second, though, that Ahleuchatistas are humorless. “Rpg3” finds them laughing and speaking in tongues in between punctuated bursts of playing. Moments like this underscore how much fun these guys have playing with each other and subverting the listeners’ expectations.

Ahleuchatistas love to play multiple variations on their riffs, as if they’re answering a series of self-posed musical questions: What would it sound like if we played this riff while muting the strings? While leaving them open? What if we put the rhythmic emphasis on this note instead of that one? What if we subtract that note? What if we add these notes? Songs like “Imperceptibility” benefit from this playfulness, and the title of album closer “Joyous Disruptions” gives the whole thing away --- these guys have FUN making noise. They spend the second half of “Disruptions” imitating the Starfuckers’ instrumental pointillism by coming close to a fully formed melody or rhythm, only to retreat back into silence. Just when you think they’re about to launch into the Mother of All Riffs, they end the album with the sound of drumsticks lackadaisically clanging against each other. The songs on The Same and the Other have a concision and excitement that their debut sorely lacked, which makes the 28 minutes pass by even quicker. I never thought I’d press “repeat” after listening to a record of theirs, but for once, I’m glad to be wrong.

---Sean Padilla

Artist Website: http://www.ahleuchatistas.com
Label Website: http://www.nfilabel.com

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