Style: Progressive Rock
Release Date: 26 Mar 2021
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There's so much fantastic music coming out of Europe at the moment that I could fill two slots per day from that continent alone, but I'll keep trying to cover as much territory as I can. And if could focus on a different continent, it would be South America rather than North America, because, while they have far fewer "major bands" and a much shorter history, there's a freshness in the music coming out of all the countries down there, a vibrancy and a sense of invention that really appeals to me. Throwing on a new album from somewhere in South America often serves as a palate cleanser for me, replenishing my faith in music as an art form and not just an industry.
Case in point: Aqviles, a progressive rock band from Santiago, Chile who have been around since 2004 and are on their second studio album, after 2015's El Último Hombre Bala. Their sound is fascinating to me because it feels soft and laid back even when it isn't. There's a lightness to it that I'm hearing a lot in South American albums lately, but this isn't surface music. Radio en Alerta, for instance, which is the first song proper, lasts under four minutes, but features some energetic bass work behind patient guitar, some unusual time signatures and a really cool slowdown in the second half that almost turns doomy, without ever being metal. There's a lot here, even when there doesn't seem to be.
Aqviles are a rock band, but I call them progressive rock because of all the experimentation going on in these songs. At first glance, some are soft rock and some hard rock, the overall spectrum the band goes through ranging from soft jazz rock in the Steely Dan vein to harder grooves rather reminiscent of Budgie. That's quite the range, but it's consistent in tone, even when it's flirting with other genres, like funk on Espectador de Terrors, or Spectator of Terror; pop on Astro, which is driven by a riff that almost feels like Robert Palmer levels of perky; or jazz on at least part of most of these ten songs.
I have to call out Fernando Urra first, because his bass is dynamic and so obvious that it often becomes the lead instrument. Diálogos is well named, because it's almost a dialogue between abrasive guitar and warm bass, with the vocals a third wheel. This one makes me wonder just how much the guitar of Diego Lillo is doing, because I'm starting to believe that what I initially thought were keyboards must be the guitar with a different tone. He uses quite a few, including a beautiful fluid one for overt solos like the one early in Espectador de Terrors that counters the ominous bass with its purity, or early in Surcos en la Piel, or Furrows in the Skin, which is almost pleading.
That leaves Rodrigo Pérez, who's a versatile drummer and needs to be to play along with this pair. He doesn't seem to do a lot compared to Urra and Lillo but, the more I listen to this, the more the drums start to emerge as an equal partner, not just the support behind the others. After all, he's credited on percussion as well as drums and there are points where he shifts from the latter to the former for the more ethnic sounding rhythms. He does a lot too, even though the gaps in his spotlight halfway through Astro are just as important as his beats.
I should also add that, if all the guitarwork wasn't enough, Lillo is also the vocalist, making Aqviles a trio. Maybe that's why this music breathes so much. However much these three musicians do, we can easily follow any of them when we choose. I love when I can listen to a song as a song, but then listen to it again as a vocal performance and a guitar performance and a drum performance. It's rare in the 21st century to be able to listen to a song as a bass performance, but I'm really happy that I can track Urra's contribution to this album without hardship.
Like many albums that seem light and airy at first glance but quickly highlight that there's really a lot going on, this is one to explore through multiple listens. Like many such albums, it's also tough to call out favourite tracks, because it's always growing. The bookends, Radio en Alerta and Brumidor, stood out for me first. Then Espectador de Terrors refused to be ignored. Surcos en la Piel staked its claim. Astro was obvious from moment one but it grew over multiple listens beyond that adrenaline shot of a riff. And so on and so on. Every song spread out and grew on me. And, in my book, that means that this is a real keeper.
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