‘Take those notes on top of notes on top of notes and extrapolate a tune, a song, god forbid a melody. These lads do that. They’ve created a strange and vibrant canvas here.‘ – Dara Higgins on Tera Melos‘ X’ed Out.
Knowing nothing about anything is a great jumping off point sometimes. So it is with me and Tera Melos. Never heard of them, which obviously says more about me, but how and ever. This is the Sacramento three piece’s second album, and one I was thoroughly glad to me my teeth into.
‘Weird Circles’ starts off sounding as if this might be one of those bands that desperately wants to be Pinback, with its symmetrically layered, precise guitar lines and its muted vocals. ‘New Chlorine’ goes further, however, with loud guitars and left turns, tangential flicks on the guitar, the odd dropped beat, sounding like it used to back in the early nineties. MBV maybe, except with some kind of Pixies fun thrown in. So far, I like where this is going, and ‘Bite’s jangling little synth line in the chorus is another welcome flourish.
The psychedelic vocal was of ‘Snake Lake’ gives us a brief break from the mania, before launching right back into it with ‘Sunburn’, a wedge of math-pop, featuring terrifically thundering drumming like Trans-Am on holidays somewhere nice. The odd, multi layered ‘Melody Nine’ gives way to the soft, lilting ‘No Phase’, vocal harmonies floating atop some strummed chords and various scritches and scratches in the background. There’s always room for some weirdness. It’s another well judged lull in proceeding, giving ‘Tropic Lame’ room to make its presence felt, with its up tempo, Dinosaur Jnr-esque catchiness.
Throughout the record there’s references and nods to their influences however fleeting. ‘Slimed’ might be a King Crimson knock off, ‘Until Lufhansa’ has a 1977 clang to its guitars. Perhaps even earlier, in a Thames Estuary way. Of course, it’s not that simple, it dissolves into a spiralling flurry of notes. It’s one of the stand outs, proving that they can do pretty decent pop when they want to.
‘Surf Nazis’ is similar, flying off in odd tangents. Tangents occasionally for the sake of being tangents. Ten songs in one. Some weird journey, ending somewhere completely different from where you started, or where you may have stopped off midway. ‘X’ed Out and Tired’ is our coda, a simple repeated line on the acoustic, leading us gently out of the record, and giving us pause to ponder all that’s gone before. We probably need it.
Progressive indie, eh? This is about getting as many notes into your sound as is humanly possible, not the reverse which is trying to take out as many notes as possible. Which is the more progressive is up for debate. However, there’s nothing wrong with virtuosity, and the guitars here are certainly that. Crazy, hyperactive finger and pedal work, the stuff we’re getting increasingly used to. Our own Adebisi have it in droves, the best example on the Irish scene right now. What you need to do to get away from being a noodle band, and basically redefining guitar-wankery as something in Topman jeans rather than spandex, is to back it up with some songs. Take those notes on top of notes on top of notes and extrapolate a tune, a song, god forbid a melody. These lads do that. They’ve created a strange and vibrant canvas here. Their influences seem obvious at times, but that’s no bad thing. There’s not a sense of nerd-boy dislocation from actual music, rather it’s in the continuing of our conversation with actual tunes and music that the joy is found. So much more than a showcase for some busy, busy fingers. Well worth checking out, especially now the sun is out.