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Tera Melos calls in a care package

By BobMarkos
On April 10, 2011

  • PUC Chronicle. PUC Chronicle

Today on mainstream radio, listeners find songs of elementary structure. Simpler is more for some music lovers, and verse-chorus-verse-chorus structure is key. It is rare to hear anything that strives away from the 4/4 kingdom, especially anything with a broken time signature or off beat drum patterns. Yet a trend in independent music is becoming increasingly popular: a trend that features fluctuating, Beethoven-like dynamics, meter-less rhythm and chromatic guitar parts that dance across all octaves.

With many of the bands that practice this method of song writing, it seems more is always better. The more strange time signatures crammed into a three-minute song, the more the band is acclaimed for their ability to incorporate the unthinkable. But often times, with such complexity, the original thought and purpose of the music is lost.

Tera Melos, a three piece Sacramento based band at the forefront of this movement, released their newest album "Patagonian Rats" with the expectations laid out before them. Their career up to this point has been consistent with "math-based" music, with some even saying they are the fathers of the wave, along with contemporaries Maps and Atlases, Don Caballarro and Battles.

But what the band delivered is very different indeed. Sure the melodic, spastic guitar leads are still there, as well as the accompanying bass and drums of uncountable meter, but there is more here than meets the eye: this album is a bridge. With its major chord progressions, 60's California pop-like vocals and melting guitar tones, "Patagonian Rats" is a branch between mainstream pop and underground thunder.

Any analysis of this album can be started off with the bold statement: listeners have never heard anything like this before. Especially for top-40 hits fans, this album's unkempt structure may be too much to wrap one's mind around. To traditional music lovers, this might simply sound like noise, but with more intent listening, you can discover the true order that lies beneath. The instruments move like a well-oiled machine, gently weaving between each time signature and octave like holes in an old country road.

At any random moment the dynamics jump from pianissimo to fortissimo in its grandest form. Transitions often consist of guitarist Nick Reinhart playing a seemingly improvised guitar melody, before being rejoined by rhythmic accompaniment. The song writing breaks all the rules, and writes a whole new legislation all in just under 50 minutes.

What makes this album stand out though is its intelligence. This is not complex for the sake of complexity, this is complexity with a mission. There is rhyme and reason for every key change, every borrowed note and every break in time. On top of that, there are chord progressions and vocal melodies that seem to have been lifted straight off of the wax of a Beach Boys album. The notes line up in a quirky, but very bright manner. Some may even compare the pop-laden aspects of the album to contemporary rock giants like Weezer.

"Patagonian Rats" serves to broaden musical horizons, as well as being a care package of jazz complexity, beach rock fun and effects pedal science.

"Patagonian Rats" receives an 8 out of 10.

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