All it takes is 3 chords and a dream!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Antioquia - Viajero

Antioquia – Viajero
2012, Antioquia

Once in a while, something truly original comes along.  San Francisco-based art rockers Antioquia bring a unique sound, dubbed “Afro-Colombian Psychedelic Lovefunk” on their third album, Viajero.  Touring throughout the U.S. over the past four years, Antioquia has become a fan and festival favorite.  While staying mainly below the radar of commercial radio, Antioquia makes some of the most infectiously danceable rock and roll out there. Comparisons have been made to Fela, Pere Ubu and the Talking Heads, but the sound mix on Viajero is more of a blend of Was (Not Was), Rusted Root and the B-52’s.

Viajero is ingeniously constructed, with rock, ska and pop numbers woven in and around occasional segues into drum circles.  Throughout much of the album there is a sense that Antioquia is constantly on the edge between genius and epic fail.  The sound is a bit messy at times; the instrumentation is not traditional rock and roll, and the band takes a lot of chances.  Luckily they are up to the challenge, and the cascade of small successes here becomes thrilling to the listener.  The psychedelic space/punk opening song “Idaho” sets the tone, done in a scatter-art style with co-vocals that almost always entirely fail to be exactly in unison.  The energy and commitment of the band make this work better than perhaps it should.  “Attack Of The Killer Balafon” is an ironic little instrumental featuring the named subject surrounds by snarky electric guitar accents.  Instrumental humor is often subtle and hard to miss; not so here.

The edges get a bit rougher on “Sister”, marrying a nasty but subdued guitar lick, open percussion and aggressive female vocals with a heavy dose of feminism.  The artsy folk/punk style here is messy yet sonically appealing.  “Who That Be?” is one of those moments where you’ll be certain the wheels are about to come off the bus, but Antioquia survives the experience unscathed.  “Steamship Enterprise” is an ambitious art-rock exploration that builds from a basely repetitive opening into an expansive turn.  Antioquia gets an A for effort here, but there’s no payoff to the vision here.

Funky, messy and fun aptly describes “Mountains”, which sounds like it should have been a Don Was/Fred Schneider collaboration.  The drum circle comes alive on “No Sleep Til Oakland” and none too soon.  This song starts out as an unimaginative number, but is saved by the rhythmic transition.  It’s almost as if the band, recording live, realized the song itself wasn’t working and decided to simply drum instead.  “Rage Of Love” is a bit more experimental, starting out as a meandering number but growing into an expansive mellow rocker with progressive inclinations.  As stylistically unsettled as the number is, it works in the milieu that Antioquia has built here. 

“Dibon” is a brief drumming interlude that transitions into the catchy, angular pop of “Donde Quiero”.  Balafon, electric guitar and percussion drive this along, with lyrics in both English and Spanish.  Rachel Antony-Levin takes the vocals here, with a voice running the gamut from Tori Amos to Pat Benetar.  The song muscles up into a heavier rock sound before taking its leave.  Whimsical ska-pop is the order of the day on “There’s A Man Jumping Off The Planet”.  This entertaining little number devolves into a messy jumble of instruments and musical ideas at the end, but it’s a fun trip.  Interestingly enough, this is also the most polished song on the album; and might have some real potential as a single. 

Antioquia returns to the drum circle on last time for “Kassa – Nisoro”, before stepping out with a thoroughly asymmetric closer in “Back To The Mountains”.  This is perhaps the only true misstep on the album.  This live, in-studio recording is messy and unpolished; and it’s very apparent that Antioquia was having a blast doing it, but it simply does not sound very good.  Put at the end of an envelope that pushes the envelope artistically and musically, “Back To The Mountains” is really something of a letdown.  It’s an unfortunate choice for the last thing a first time listener will hear, as it doesn’t leave the best impression of the band.

Antioquia’s let it all hang out attitude is one of the biggest driving forces behind the success of Viajero.  As with all great traits, it has the potential to be their undoing on occasion as well.  On balance, however, Viajero flirts with brilliance throughout, dancing on the edge of failure and success where magic sometimes happens.  The blend of sounds and styles here is unique, and the slightly unpolished sound on Viajero means the experience have here will be much closer to what you’ll hear live.  It’s hard not to like Antioquia.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more at Viajero is available digitally from Bandcamp.

No comments: