March 06, 2006

Tera Melos self-titled

Full disclosure: I opened for Tera Melos when they played Houston and Denton last fall, and they blew me away. Their music took math-rock to new levels of speed, aggression and unpredictability. The drummer nailed every change in meter and dynamics perfectly; even when he sounded like he was about to lose the beat, he never did. The guitarists crammed the songs with as many jazz chords, fret-board swoops and fleet-fingered finger-tapped runs as they could. They sped up and slowed down at seemingly random moments, stretching the rhythms of their songs like rubber bands. Every time I was able to spot a pattern in their songs, they’d throw in a one-time-only fill or tangent that kept me off balance. If the music wasn’t enough of a shock to the system, their onstage behavior put me in the kind of physical danger I hadn’t been in since the Fatal Flying Guilloteens’ last South by Southwest showcase. The guitarists swung their instruments around like swords, scaring the crap out of everyone standing within a few feet of them. In Houston, one of the guitarists played the last song of the set hanging upside-down from the ceiling; in Denton, the other guitarist climbed up a tree, only to discover that he couldn’t get back down! Their album wasn’t out yet at the time, and I wondered if it was even possible for them to replicate such boundless energy and constant subversion in the studio.

Now that I have a tangible copy of their self-titled debut in my hands, I can say without a doubt that they’ve done it. Not only do they play with just as much fury in the studio as they do on stage, but they also utilize the recording studio to make the music’s hyper take on mid-period Don Caballero (“Melody 3,” in particular, is a total What Burns Never Returns tribute) even more of a head trip. There are songs that get swallowed whole by white noise (“Melody 3”), songs that get interrupted by fade-ins from completely different songs (“Melody 4”) and songs that abruptly morph into cutesy synth-pop twins of themselves halfway through (“Melody 5”).

Then, there’s the closing 29-minute freak-out “Melody 8,” which takes up almost half of the entire album, and is already polarizing critics (if the reviews posted on the band’s website are anything to go by). I love the last seven minutes, in which a gorgeous Hototogisu-style drone emerges from the wreckage, but I still think the track could’ve been whittled down to half its length without compromising its intensity. When self-indulgence is a band’s stock-in-trade, though, who can truly say how much is too much? All tolled, this album is still a fine debut from one of the most exciting instrumental bands in the underground. The next time they come to Texas, I’ll be right up front, banging my head and dodging the guitars!

---Sean Padilla

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