Back in 2013, Barcelona’s Audiolepsia raised some eyebrows (and received positive coverage from Arctic Drones) with their driving, prog-influenced debut Principio de Incertidumbre. Four years removed from that release, fans of their (actively-rocking) take on post-rock have no doubt built a great deal of anticipation for their sophomore effort Muses. Released on both Aloud Music and dunk!records, and featuring an undeniable uptick in both production and songwriting craftsmanship, it is unlikely to disappoint. Loosely conceptual, its tracks are based on a collection of inspirational female figures from the world of cinema.
RELEASE DATE: 11 May 2017 LABEL: Aloud Music, dunk!records
Though it is not necessary to have a familiarity with the characters in question, it certainly enriches the listening experience. Recalling the gritty determination and explosive power of Uma Thurman’s Beatrix Kiddo in Kill Bill brings an added dimension and sense of journey to the opening track “Beatrix.” The song has hints of deceptive beauty punctuated by a considerable mean streak and a killer instinct, which is certainly befitting of its title. “Rachel”’s tonal shifts – moving dramatically from cool and clean to achingly sludgy, from romantic softness to a soaring, heroic finale, mimic the arc of Sean Young’s Blade Runner character, the replicant who believes she is human. Even the final moments, which mimic the track’s opening refrain, reflect the duality between Rachel’s initial insistence that she is a human being and her final symbolic reclamation of self through actions that define humanity as a concept.
Other tracks take a circuitous approach to honoring their namesakes. “Clarice” eschews the more horrific elements of “Silence of the Lambs” in order to focus on the melancholy that stirs within Clarice Starling with an extended acoustic section that holds echoes of the round, engulfing sadness of a band like Grace Cathedral Park. Maybe most surprising is “Evey,” which is based on Natalie Portman’s character in V For Vendetta. Rather than take the obvious approach of sonically reconstructing the raucous, vitriolic rebelliousness on display in that film, it instead presents as a ballad that seems to memorialize Evey’s loving adoption of V as an idea rather than simply a man.
When dealing in prog-rock sounds, there is a thin tightrope bands must traverse (at least in my mind) that totters between having the right level of production and being overproduced. Save for a few moments, Audiolepsia largely succeeds in this pursuit. From time to time they veer a bit too close to the ultra-clean, Joe Satriani-style studio instrumental rock that makes me break out in hives, and occasionally make creative choices that are bewildering (how they ever chose not to turn the chugging riff at the 4:54 mark of “Beatrix” into a full-band breakdown is a mystery that will bug me every time I hear that track). But they display plenty of variation and nuance to keep things interesting, and they spend more than enough time rocking to make this a thoroughly enjoyable listening experience. They particularly excel in the kind of driving riffs and mountain-scaling leads that lesser bands wish they could build entire albums around, and yet they are only used here to accent thoroughly well-rounded individual compositions.
Of course, album reviews are all about subjective taste. Personally, I prefer my recordings to have a bit of roughness around the edges. It’s the reason I prefer Mineral’s emo over My Chemical Romance’s emo, for instance. That being said, in the interest of objective fairness, if you are a listener who is excited at the prospect of thoroughly well-produced, expertly performed progressive rock, Muses is likely to fall square in the center of your alley.
All in all, this is an exceedingly well-made record. Audiolepsia has the ability to fit a lot of ideas into a single composition while still coming away sounding lean and mean and entirely focused. If you enjoy a central meeting point between progressive rock, post-rock and post-metal that doesn’t lean heavily into overly drawn-out crescendo-core, you would be well served to give Muses a spin and see how it inspires you.