Skyscraper Magazine » Tristeza
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Sanity Muffin / Better Looking
Format: CD / LP / Digital
Release Date: November 30, 2010
By Michael Snyder July 5, 2011

On the heels of Skyscraper’s relaunch, we’ve been reviewing a number of records from mid-to-late 2010 that we missed out on covering during our semi-hiatus. Sort of a “what we missed” series of reviews, emphasizing both some of the best releases of 2010 and some of the year’s most interesting but overlooked records. This is one of those.

Paisajes, the fourth full-length album proper by this influential Oakland-via-San Diego instrumental band, is vibrant, colorful, and atmospheric.  It opens strongly with a “Raise Your Gaze,” a mid-tempo droning rocker, operating as a statement of intent. Chin up, we are told, but it also has to do with raising the stakes of instrumental shoegaze-type music, which they do here. Not just shoegaze but also post-rock, psychedelia, indie, new wave, and to a lesser extent, even jazz and Latin rhythms are all mined. “Raise Your Gaze” brings to mind the Velvet Underground but with more refinement, West Coast mellowness, and cleaner production values. This is clearly not going to be a post-rock snooze-fest. “Missoula” continues that thought with an upbeat rhythm. Using minor chords and arpeggiated picking patterns, this bright and delicate song conveys a sense of motion across the Midwestern plains, the open landscape imaginatively evoked by these California instrumentalists.  The poignant “L’Accident Hereux” offers a languid and fetching melody, deploying sustained tones. It is a bit reminiscent of later Blonde Redhead and even Air, when the retro analogue synthesizer floats in.

Tristeza often add diverse instrumentation to the usual guitar/drums/bass post-rock mix in unique and innovative ways. This album, much like Tristeza’s previous three (and numerous EPs in between), uses melodic, percussion-like vibraphone and marimba, plus touches of violin and viola. The dynamic “Dark Peers” uses mariachi trumpets to aid its cinematic effect. The third track, “A Traves de los Ojos de Nuestras Hijas,” brings in saxophones and a rapid, syncopated machine rhythm. Thirteen years on, Tristeza’s core line-up of guitarist Christopher Sprague, percussionist James Lehner, and bassist Luis Hermosillo continues to develop fresh and inventive sounds, here offering an attractive, fluid, cohesive collection of compositions with plenty of atmosphere and mood.

Paisajes is a well-crafted and ear-pleasing album. A doff of the hat goes to producer Tim Green, who also recorded Tristeza’s first album, Spine and Sensory (1999), for bringing out the tonalities and immediacy of the music. Fans of spacey indie and post-rock from acts such as The Blue Nile, American Analog Set, Stereolab, Tortoise, Sea and Cake, Füxa, and Bark Psychosis are sure to appreciate this accomplished and nuanced set by these now veterans. The years of craft-honing and passion for real music really show through, and this band and album deserve your attention.

Visit: Tristeza | Sanity Muffin | Better Looking
Purchase: Insound | eMusic