A few months ago I was gushing about a cold, calculated, intellectual, and yet ferocious and fantastically talented act called Animals as Leaders – more specifically about their first album, masterminded and realized, almost single-handendly, by guitar hero Tosin Abasi on his eight-string guitar. Ever since, the unexpected success of this first album has led to the recruiting of two more members to the AAL team – drummer Matt Garstka and second eight-string guitarist Javier Reyes. Mestis is Reyes’ side project, issuing this first EP last year and reminding me just why I liked AAL’s first album so much and confirming, if there was ever any doubt, that he’s a perfect match for the extended format of the main band.
That’s enough band history however – this short but very powerful offering will take a bit of eloquence on my part, as a would-be critic, just as it unveils itself to the listener’s ears with a wonderful and rare balance of virtuosity and expressiveness. Comprised of five songs spanning very diverse moods – from the intense, gathering storm of Te Mato, to the breezy, slightly sentimental Olvidala – this EP is special, if for nothing else, for the amazing ability to show patience and restraint in such a short format, in which most performers would probably choose to dazzle at any cost. The intention behind this record seems quite far removed from hollow showmanship though, in spite of the lofty technical proficiency displayed by Javier Reyes at all times. His style, although demanding and uncompromising, is marked by a certain ability to contain the potential onslaught of notes and techniques within a very hard, structured shell of melody and expression. Thus, the music avoids turning into pure math or, arguably worse, a garbled cavalcade of flamboyant demonstrations, and finds its foundation in the subtle and yet completely transparent compositional honesty which comes with love for one’s own songs rather than one’s skill.
Javier Reyes composes with great patience, refusing to cram too much in any given song – the themes follow each-other with great clarity, seamlessly, and as a result, the songs which contain them end up crystallized in shapes which seem to me of absolutely immense strength and brilliance, in a process which my imagination wants to believe is not unlike carving gemstones into rhomboid shapes with the sheer power of one’s will. It’s rare that I get such an epic feeling of control and structure from music, especially in the case of a record barely longer than a quarter of an hour. And yet that’s all it takes Mr. Reyes to convey his spine-tingling vision of how sound can be brought as near as possible to solidity. The name of the EP is exquisitely chosen, given this overall mood – the basal ganglia acts as a very powerful control element of the vertebrate brain – responsible for a variety of functions ranging from motor control to “action selection” – all of which seem to relate to the razor’s edge between voluntary choice and force of habit.
I think it’s pointless to go too deep into the interpretation of the relationship between the record’s name and the nature of the music. There is but one point to be made here – in the war between the structuring and the expressive minds, Javier Reyes has achieved a position of neutrality, or rather, has risen above the petty conflict and has strenuously forged a formidable hybrid, almost intimidating in its stability and shimmering clarity. Enjoy!