Homínido produced one of my favourite releases of 2014 with their debut, Estirpe Lítica and they now return with Alados (‘Wings’), an album that considers the birds of their native Chile and how their personalities can be related to human characteristics.
Forming from the ashes of La Desooorden, a great band who I had the pleasure of reviewing several times including their final release, the lovely El Andarin (2012), drummer Rodrigo González Mera and bassist Francisco Martín commenced working on Homínido. Bringing in a variety of players to form the core of the band they started to build on their previous esoteric mix of rock and jazz fusion, Chilean folk and ethnic instrumentation with history, the environment and natural world as major influences. With this second album there have been some changes in the Homínido camp. Martín and singer Eliana Valenzuela have departed, the latter replaced by the male voice of Javier Briceño with Touch guitarist Natán Ide also added. The trumpet and violin of Cristopher Hernández and Benjamín Ruz remain fundamental to the Homínido sound, the band rounded out by González Mera and guitarist/keyboardist Pablo Cárcamo.
The change of vocalist and the addition of Touch Guitar to replace a dedicated bass take a few listens to get used to it. Homínido have not taken the easy route here but despite the shifts from the Estirpe Lítica template many of the elements that made that album so listenable are still very much present. Briceño’s style is different to Valenzuela, less dramatic on the whole, smooth and measured like a warm hug, and it suits the music particularly well as he emotionally delivers the lrics, which are, as usual, all in Spanish. Ide generally plays in the bass zone with a more subdued and less jazzy style than Martín, but when he lets rip the unique facets of the Touch come through to add a distinctive element and additional tones.
It is these tonal choices that remain key and once again vital to the sound are the trumpet and cornet of Hernández. Ruz’ violin is used more sparingly this time but when it comes through it is distinctive and beautifully elegiac. Overall the sound is often calmer with fewer of the Math Rock twists and turns, Cárcamo and González Mera keeping themselves reined in more than on the last record and there’s a distinct maturity to Alados that benefits it all the more. That is not to say that it is sedate – it isn’t – and when the mood suits the band spur off at a cracking pace with enough grit to keep the average metal head satisfied. The emphasis is placed more firmly on the lyrical nature of the concept, each track titled with the local name for various bird species (for any twitchers present I’ve added the English names to the track listing, below. I particularly like the sound of the Tufted Tit-Tyrant!).
The music is rich and warm, full of indigenous South American textures and backed up with plenty of muscle and dexterity. Shot through with the indelible sounds of their homeland, the magical percussion is at the heart of this subliminal ethnicity, ensuring that the listener is left in no doubt as to the importance that the band place on their heritage and the natural rhythms of their environment.
The songs are once again to the point with only three breaking the 7-minute mark, the band working well as a unit in service of the music through incredible attention to detail. As usual recordings from the natural world feature, the sounds of bird song being highly appropriate to this release, such as in the intro to opener Tenca which feels like the start of the day as the sun comes up, birds waking in a warm breeze. González Mera adds drive as the guitar is picked delicately. Hernández’ beautiful brass tone accents the music, becoming more strident as an injection of power and grit from the guitar sees the band take flight. It’s a lovely piece, the percussive touches, as usual, a joy. The harmony vocals are lovely and Ruz adds yearning violin to the quiet mid-section.
One of the features of Alados is the use of guitar to imitate the calls and personalities of the birds and in Cachudito it is delicate before turning towards metal, shredding in the background as the trumpet hold’s its ground. Queltehue has a bigger sound, the bass low, trumpet and violin combining beautifully in the first glimpse of melody. There’s some fine guitar from Cárcamo, trumpet adding accents as he slashes and slices mercilessly but González Mera holds it down and it almost becomes a jazz strut! Throughout Alados there’s a driving live sound that is compelling and here a storm of drums, guitars and brass rises to a superb whirlwind crescendo. The deft interplay and use of different textures is immaculate, but not clinical.
González Mera adds lashings of Latin percussion to Chercan, Ide making himself heard beautifully with a lovely melody line from Briceño. He certainly has a lovely voice, changing tone as the drive of the music directs. opening with guitar and violin, Fio Fio is more contemplative, trumpet supporting spoken words before soaring on its own, the song ultimately becoming a slow salsa. Vari is sinister with edgy guitar and vocals, the percussion managing to be both simple yet intricate, the bird in question appearing to be quite a nasty piece of work! Pequen is distinctively South American, from the drums that flavour the start to the edge on the brass. Cárcamo adds shades of King Crimson to the guitar before a jittering stomp kicks off as drums, guitar and trumpet trade licks. There’s a Latin pulse through Loica, plaintive guitar picking turning to forthright chording. Briceño is wistful as full-on percussion builds to a powerful solo from Cárcamo, the song ending with a lovely climax of brass, percussion and vocals.
Akin to Pink Floyd’s One of These Days, an echoed bass line kicks off Traro, Cárcamo picking up the pace aggressively. Native drums and pulsing Touch calm things, but not for long as venomous guitar takes us to a lovely and malevolent section of Touch and percussion, Cárcamo adding a Santana groove in a percussion supported solo. Keyboards conjure images of baking heat for Chuncho, a steady Latin rhythm appearing with lots of percussion and an orchestral feel. The power builds on harmony vocals and a beautifully arranged wailing solo from Cárcamo, subsiding back to the rhythm and then silence. Finally Garza, beautiful pedalled chords and cymbal work gradually build an evening feel with what sounds like a saxophone. It’s sedate and beautifully realised, González Mera’s percussion box getting another good tickling. Cárcamo’s gorgeous backwards guitar brings Fripp to mind and there’s almost a late ’60s/early ’70s vibe, but ultimately it’s timeless.
You can really get lost amongst the vivid images conjured up by this music. No show-boating, just precision playing with a live feel and all beautifully arranged. This is another winner from Homínido, give it a few spins and it’s sure to get under your skin – pure quality and an absorbing listen unlike anything else you’re likely to hear any time soon. A fantastic piece of work and a credit to all concerned, it is well worth your investment, Alados being another fine album that deserves to be heard far more widely.
[You can read TPA’s interview with Homínido drummer and percussionist Rodrigo González Mera HERE.]
01. Tenca (8:03) [Chilean Mockingbird]
02. Cachudito (5:48) [Tufted Tit-Tyrant]
03. Queltehue (8:02) [Southern Lapwing]
04. Chercan (4:01) [House Wren]
05. Fio Fio (5:21) [White-crested Elaenia]
06. Vari (4:12) [Cinereous Harrier]
07. Pequen (4:29) [Burrowing Owl]
08. Loica (4:46) [Long-tailed Meadowlark]
09. Traro (6:20) [Southern Crested Caracara]
10. Chuncho (7:30) [Austral Pygmy Owl]
11. Garza (5:22) [Heron]
Total time – 63:32
Pablo Cárcamo – Guitars, Keyboards
Natán Ide – Touch Guitar
Rodrigo González Mera – Drums & Percussion
Javier Briceño – Vocals
Cristopher Hernández – Trumpet, Cornet, Duduk
Benjamín Ruz – Violin
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: Chile
Date of Release: 7thSeptember 2016