With a US tour starting in July and European dates scheduled for the end of the year, Messrs Govan, Beller and Minnemann return with the third studio instalment of their mind-bendingly dextrous outings as The Aristocrats. The album is well named; it’s simply three guys, each capable of burning your eyebrows off at 100 paces, having a laugh doing what they do. But don’t go thinking this is an album of thrown together jamming; everything here is prepared in minute detail and delivered with micrometer defying accuracy. At the heart of it all is the interaction and chemistry between the three and that is what makes The Aristos so special.
The blocky old-school graphics of the sleeve art is deceptive as what we have here is the highest of hi-def, music that bristles with passion and enthusiasm with that ‘live in the studio’ feel that captures so well the energy of their concert performances.
As usual this is a fun listen.
I’m reviewing the music from the standard album but there is also a Deluxe Edition with a bonus DVD which includes a 30-minute documentary featuring live and in the studio footage, outtakes, demos and more. A must for any fan of this gleeful seat-of-yer-pants trio but not the only selling point as the music on the CD is the really important part.
Instrumental albums have seldom been this fun and, without any pointless noodling just for the sake of it, the result is a record that captures everything that makes this band a prospect to be cherished. It is not just for musos as the performances sparkle in compositions that capture the best of the individual performances without any showboating or spotlight hogging. Each individual works for the benefit of the pieces a whole, and every one is very satisfying. True professionals, they have in surprisingly short order (10 days to record at the legendary Sunset Studios in Hollyweird) produced a disc that they can easily replicate live (easily?!) on the upcoming dates with little in the way of studio trickery, a disc that gives their audience exactly what they want. As Govan says:-
“We’ve learned a lot since we started this band – four years, three studio albums, two live DVDs and about a billion notes ago! – and I think our latest offering reflects this in all kinds of ways…The decision to road-test our new material in front of a live audience before commencing the recording process; the choice to record in a studio which had some thoroughly inspiring rock’n’roll ‘mojo’; our sudden urge to become more bold and experimental with overdubs
rather than feeling any pressure to record exclusively in a strict ‘trio’ format… all of this has had some kind of positive effect on the way the new record came out. Plus, I think the material on this album is some of the most interesting stuff we’ve ever written for each other.”
If you’ve heard The Aristocrats before then you’ll have a very good idea of what you’re going to get with this album but Tres Caballeros features material of greater sonic depth and breadth than previously, unique textures and lush layering augmenting the band’s natural ability to improvise, both individually and as a group, at the highest levels possible. It almost sounds like they just got together and started playing but you know that a hell of a lot of hard work has gone into the preparation for this album.
To pin down some of the tracks, after a rampant intro rush through Stupid 7, high-velocity notes showering all over the place, Jack’s Back slows things down with an angular rhythm and Beller’s bass taking the lead. What starts off with almost a Tango feel to it evolves with the three protagonists moving around each other as the track progresses. They give themselves plenty of space to stretch out and the use of additional layering embiggens the sound nicely. The melodic nature of the material remains central throughout. Texas Crazypants sounds much as you’d probably expect, Govan channelling Link Wray as the band stampede into ZZ Top, the Texan theme continued but this time far from civilisation in the sun-baked wilderness of the cover, the additional layering again coming into its own at the end of this one.
The three match each other punch for punch; this stuff is going to be a blast live. Pig’s Day Off sees the band kick back with an easy country vibe and is indicative of the variety on display. They simply can’t stay in one groove throughout an entire song and there are several interesting diversions from the main path. In fact it seems that Pig’s relaxing day takes a turn for the worse around mid-afternoon!
Smuggler’s Corridor is a divine mix of Pulp Fiction cool, Surf and Los Lobos Mexicana with unfeasibly fiddly passages that fit perfectly. You even get some manly Spaghetti Western “Ah, Ah, Ah” vocals! Pressure Relief is a very different animal, soft and understated to start, Govan rings all manner of notes and sounds out of his instrument later on, the pressure of this tightly controlled track relieved at last before a return to Zappa-esque quietness. Deliverance-style fast picking is the order of the day for The Kentucky Meat Shower (Google it!), Govan’s quicksilver fingers defying physics. I don’t understand how he doesn’t tie himself in a knot around his fingerboard or break knuckles every time he does this. Beller’s tasteful lines take things in a new direction before the track comes full circle.
Finally we have the weighty 11 minute Through The Flower. Govan opens the door, it’s a slow build that changes direction a number of times, laid back and controlled in the main but cutting loose to good effect every so often as it moves towards a suitably “large” finale.
Tres Caballeros is extraordinary. In fact, almost every single note is extraordinary. Individually these guys are astonishing, together this is the stuff of dreams and with all three being so far beyond the competition that they’re practically out of sight there are no stand out performances – they all stand out!
God bless them every one and if you have the opportunity to see them this year and are even thinking of not going then you’d better be dead. Or in jail.
01. Stupid 7 (3:53)
02. Jack’s Back (6:06)
03. Texas Crazypants (5:20)
04. ZZ Top (5:15)
05. Pig’s Day Off (6:04)
06. Smuggler’s Corridor (8:11)
07. Pressure Relief (6:56)
08. The Kentucky Meat Shower (4:49)
09. Through The Flower (11:26)
Guthrie Govan – Guitars
Bryan Beller – Bass
Marco Minnemann – Drums
Label: BOING Music
Cat. Num: BM00007 (Standard CD) / BM00008 (Deluxe Edition)