The latest offering from the San Diego quintet (featuring Album Leaf mastermind Jimmy Lavalle, who has subsequently left the group), Espuma, the counterpart to the 2002 EP Mania Phase, is a seven-song effort showcasing several tracks that the band has been crafting in the live setting for some time. Like Tristeza’s name and many of their song titles, Espuma is derived from the Spanish. In this case “espumar,” which has three meanings (according to my handy Spanish-English Dictionary): 1. To skim off, 2. To froth or foam, and 3. To sparkle.
With each release since their emergence in the late 90s, Tristeza has stripped away more of the rock sensibilities that placed them as just another upstart from the post-Tortoise “instrumental indie-rockers” school. While Tristeza’s efforts require at least two or three listens to peel away the layers of sound enveloping each track, their music has always been marked by elegant, note-heavy guitars layered with humming keyboard washes, all piled atop a rhythm section steeped in jazz. 2000’s Dream Signals In Full Circles best signaled a new direction for the band, embracing elements of trance, ambience, and dub, with heavier electronic influence and more freeform jamming. Espuma illustrates that Tristeza has indeed been “skimming off” elements that have, in the past, adhered to their sound. They’ve all but abandoned the verse-chorus-verse-minus-vocals approach, leaving them free to develop textured tracks that, while they drone, still pack a punch. The result is both as simple and as dense as anything that Tristeza has ever done, and is also likely to be perceived as their most inaccessible work.
Starting off with a brief ambient track, the songs quickly develop into longer jams, locking onto a tune and to stretching it as far as it can withstand. The second track, “Glimpse Exposure,” strikes as almost an impromptu piece, as it slowly creeps up from simple guitar intro (which serves as the backbone of the song, barely changing) into a cascading crescendo of keyboards and splash cymbal hits. Whereas on past efforts, Tristeza has always seemed more collaborative sound-wise, it is the bass / drums / keys that seem to be demanding most of the attention here, with the guitars picking softly underneath. On the following two tracks “Avant Reverse” and “Enchanter,” there are virtually no guitars, but plenty of noise effects and tweaking beneath the rhythm. The result is a decidedly more dub-heavy sound than anything Tristeza has done before, and it is here that we get our second definition of espumar.
It has become common for things to move slowly with Tristeza. And while repetition was always a weapon brandished on their past work, it seems to be their primary method of songwriting these days. Like the best instrumental music, they manage to keep their repetitiveness interesting enough to demand some attention from their listeners as they neatly nullify us with the music. In truth, the second definition of “espumar” seems to be the most accurate in describing Tristeza; the sounds on Espuma do indeed froth and foam, like the breaking of waves against sand, over and over again. It is soothing, relaxing, trance inducing, and the most it will make you want to do is close your eyes before you drift off.
The EP’s most interesting and “rocking” track, “Living Stains,” was recorded live, and one can feel the energy surging from each note and cymbal hit as if the band were performing it right in front of you. A heavy keyboard buildup laces the track with the typical Tristeza sonics, but it is the timing and musical communication that is apparent between the band that results in the final correlation between Espumar‘s title and the music it contains. Tristeza has moved slowly but gracefully up to this point, but “Living Stains” puts the EP into a whole into new perspective – that of an encapsulated flash of brightness emerging from a bleak soundscape. Each note and sound on the EP suddenly seems to truly sparkle with the new smoothness of polished stone.
Some MP3s available from Epitonic.