Tristeza | A Colores (Better Looking)

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Instrumental rock recordings are fun to listen to but often difficult to describe. Listeners are used to honing in on vocals and lyrics; what can a reviewer say to draw attention to an exceptionally good album that is just guitars, keyboards, and drums, with the occasional extra instrument? Let’s start by saying that southern California quintet Tristeza is one of the best instrumental rock bands in the world—they’re not abrasive, they don’t go off on oblique virtuoso tangents like Tortoise, and they don’t drone in a dark place like Godspeed You! Black Emperor. They just play very cool, texturally inviting, economically arranged compositions with emotion and flair; vocals are not needed.

A Colores, Tristeza’s third full-length (and the first without cofounder Jimmy Lavelle, who departed for the Album Leaf) is a richly musical platter that passes the test of sounding great on a car stereo, a computer, or through headphones. I’m not sure how helpful it would be to describe individual tracks, but there’s an alluring sparkle emanating from songs like the opening “Bromas” (the guitar arpeggios and crisp rhythm section here are super-cool, and the sound clarity is stunning), the gently melancholy “La Tierra Sutil,” the lilting and lovely “Liquid Pyramids” (which sustains interest for all of its six minutes), and obvious highlight “Halo Heads,” a stirring track with a breezy rhythm and guitar tones so pure they achieve a polished, glassy shimmer. There’s a stylistic shift in the last minute that is truly invigorating. On “Aereoaviones,” keyboard, guitar, and percussion seem to actually be skipping along together in tandem, like enthusiastic young children off to play a secret game in the woods. What delightful music!

“Stumble on Air” gets maximum mileage out of a repetitive guitar element that sticks with you, and “Harmonic Sea” is a classic Tristeza romp whose title is rather apt for where this graceful, tasteful band want to take you sailing. If you need more convincing, no less an artist than Simon Raymonde of the legendary Cocteau Twins wrote a personal testimonial in support of this album: “The foreplay between guitars and keyboards throughout is quite magical…there is great hope and optimism present here, a sanguine feeling that permeates through the whole album. The album will delight both die-hard Tristeza fans and the uninitiated alike…” Raymonde waxes even more rhapsodic in places, but the point is this: Tristeza make for compelling listening whether you’re musically experienced or just someone who’s into pleasing rhythms and bright sonic swirls. There are plenty of both on this thoroughly fat-free, word-free little gem.

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