Friday 10 December 2021

Travis Moreno - Umbral (2021)

Country: Chile
Style: Psychedelic Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 26 Nov 2021
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram

I have no idea who Travis Moreno is but, even though they're named for him, he is not part of this psychedelic rock band from Chile. Google mostly gives me results for this band which I'm guessing isn't named for the high school student here in Arizona who's good at basketball or, I assume, the sales consultant who works for Buerkle Motor Co Inc in Hugo, Minnesota. I guess it'll have to stay a mystery, but that's somehow appropriate for a band who have so little interest in defining what they do within a single genre. Sure, this is psychedelic rock but that's certainly not all it is.

The opener, Astrovela, is a pulsing, driving effort that brings the Ozric Tentacles to mind. It makes us think that the album will stay psychedelic above all and move into space rock in a very organic way. Of course, it doesn't because it has little interest in repeating itself. Tornasol Fuego kicks off so smooth jazz that it's almost lounge, though it's never entirely traditional. These musicians are always aware that there's a different note or chord to use instead of the obvious one and it keeps us very much on the hop. It's like Peter Gabriel-era Genesis interpreting Tony Bennett and it ends up truly wild, evolving from maybe my least favourite song to maybe my favourite section (except maybe the second half of La Piel de las Sombras).

By the time we get to Selva, it all becomes a blissful sort of organised chaos. It's jazz and prog and fusion. It leans heavily into the experimental, at once insanely tight and completely loose, and we start to think of "progressive" in a krautrock sense of "near impenetrable weirdness that we can't help but like without understanding why because we don't have a degree in musicology". It's this Travis Moreno that I appreciate the most, which is good because it's the most frequent mode that the band play in.

The opening couple of minutes of Selva are outrageous and fascinating, often sounding like a pair of songs playing at once rather than just one. The rest of the song isn't far behind and others are quick to follow in this vein. Fantasma often plays in exactly the same ball park and Copia Feliz does much of the same thing but with even more frantic urgency. When Travis Moreno decide to turn up their complexity levels, they're impossible to ignore. The opening of Tornasol Fuego excepted, this is never going to be background music, whether you dig it or not.

Arguably the most progressive track here, and perhaps not uncoincidentally the best (though I've not given a shout out yet to the delightfully intricate Somnolencia), is the album closer, La Piel de las Sombras, a neatly evocative title that translates to The Skin of the Shadows. While it's clear to me that the band are seeing a very wide range of Latin music indeed as their bedrock, meaning a lot more than merely the various eras of Carlos Santana, this quite obviously delves the furthest into unusual instrumentation.

It has lots of room for that being a breath under nine minutes in length, but bass player Cristóbal Ulloa shifts onto sequencers, flute, ocarina, maracas, acoustic guitar and claves, along with some instruments I had to look up, like huiro and Peruvian cajón; drummer Jorge Rubio adds timpani, djembe and bottles to his repertoire; and guest musician Claudio Sánchez joins in on electric and acoustic guitars and cuica. The latter is a Brazilian friction drum; a huiro may be a guiro, a hollow gourd played with tines over notches; and cajón is a box drum often played with hands. As you can imagine, there are a lot of interesting rhythms on this song, even getting punky late on!

Travis Moreno call what they do "a harmonic/lyrical exploration", which sounds like a pretentious way to say vocal music but it's not unfair. They "pursue multiple escapes" from the "basis of rock", using "a strong connection and roots with the Latin American poetic universe." That sounds very pretentious too, but it really does describe what they do well. This is rock music that often isn't. It ought to work best for those listeners who miss the days of truly progressive rock, which polarised opinions and rewarded those with open minds and the willingness to listen to unusual music many times to figure out what it's doing.

And it's been a while since I heard something that challenging but ultimately rewarding, maybe a year because Neptunian Maximalism is the last band that rang that bell for me.

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