A few months before the four year anniversary of their debut, a second record made a whale fall into the abyss that is our internet nowadays. However, instead of it being an end, the release of “The Madrean” is the beginning of something big and deserves to be lifted right out. The record is an invitation to the region shared between the United States and Mexico that serves both as residential land for most of the band’s members and as the title for Whale Fall‘s sophomore album.
RELEASE DATE: 16 December 2014 LABEL: Self-released
If anything, “The Madrean” is a journey. With his opening bass line, Erik Tokle plucks you from your chair before the other musicians join up and accompany you on the start of a trip that will take you from under the Los Angeles highway overpasses to the heights of Tahquitz Peak. Ali Vazin’s guitar work maintains a constant flow, swelling and diminishing together with Aaron Farinelli’s magnificent effort on drums. Farinelli is able to lay the ground-work for the huge soundscapes conjured up by his band mates. Using efficient silences, subtle hi-hat fills and raw play when needed, he provides precisely in the needs of the rest of the music.
And then we have yet to describe where Whale Fall truly excels. Upon reaching the first landmark in their quest, a triumphant combination of horns, trumpet and saxophone reaches down from the sky to hail the fellows on their journey. Along the way, one is treated with cello vistas of rivers and waterfalls and continues his path through waves of piano sounding like tinkering rain or howling winds before a glorious brass ensemble announces the coming clear skies. It’s in this variation in instruments, played by reinforcements in the form of Joseph Santa Maria on saxophone and Artyom Manukyan on cello in addition to the band’s own trumpeter and keyboard player J-Matt Greenberg, that Whale Fall shows their worth.
For those less geography-minded, “The Madrean” is at times perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon. On the other hand, tracks like “Tahquitz” and “On River On Route” are worthy of no less than the soundtrack of the greatest space exploration mission of our century. Regardless of how you perceive it, this record will play on your mood. The walls of guitar are built up and broken down repeatedly and the brass varies between blowing triumph and wailing pain. The sheer emotion the band puts in this music is astonishing and for me personally, with its rushing bass guitar and poppy synthesizers, the climax of the one build-up that makes up the whole song in “Tahquitz” is easily one of the high-lights of this album. It simply radiates with accomplishment and general happiness.
Speaking about mood, another thing about this album that puts me in a good one is the technical quality of it. It’s a joy to listen to, no matter the medium. The mixing is exquisite. Keeping in mind the amount of instruments mentioned above, all of them blend in nicely. Quiet moments still feel powerful, while the climactic heights remain clear and balanced. The trumpet always stands out, but you never get the feeling it takes over, whether it’s carrying you through the silent moments or fortifying the numerous victorious climaxes.
After all these superlatives, it seems superfluous to say this is an excellent album. The hope-inducing ending of title track “The Madrean”, which is also the last song on the record, leaves you wanting more. Luckily for those new to Whale Fall, there’s an eponymous debut sitting on their Bandcamp page waiting to be discovered.