Editor's Note: For the last nine years, Splendid's reviews have been edited pretty aggressively -- for grammar, punctuation, spelling, usage, accuracy, coherence and thoroughness of argument, and even adherence to "house" style. There are two reasons for this. First of all, I've always believed that for online magazines to succeed, they must offer the highest quality content possible. Second, how can you trust a publication to recommend music if its writers can't tell the difference between there, their and they're? That said, editing is extremely time consuming, and on many occasions over the last nine years, I've wondered what would happen if I took a week off and let the reviews go through completely untouched. Long story short: this week, from December 5th through December 10th, is that week, and the review you're about to read is untouched by editorial hands. Will this new (and very temporary) hands-off policy make a difference? Will you even notice? We'll see...
San Diego indie-psychedelics Tristeza are a band of the much-maligned all-instrumental variety. For some people, this relegates an album like A Colores to "background music for when you're not trying to get laid" status. And it's true: Tristeza's latest effort does make an excellent soundtrack for reading and other domestic pursuits. It's mellow enough not to distract, yet has enough energy to get you over most of the humps of pre-move-out panic cleaning. But to consign A Colores to such utilitarian purposes is to miss out on half its value; like any full, intricate music, Tristeza's work is best appreciated (in small doses, at least) when you're not doing anything but listening... stonedness is optional.
Opener "Bromas" is one of A Colores' high points; it envelops you in layers of cottony vibraphone and syncopated pickery, sliced through with hard-panned distorted guitars. The song's driving bassline and cyclical, intertwining guitar and vibe hooks show Tristeza at their catchiest (which is, surprisingly enough, fairly catchy). The Rhodes arpeggios that open "Balabaristas" are an appropriate progression from this; the song stays low-key for a short spell, then a loping beat and layers of guitar noodling make their soporific appearances. The first minute, sadly, is the most interesting; much of the rest is a long-winded gauze of delayed piano and heavy atmosphere, with more repetition and technique on display than emotion. These elevator-music periods are a little too frequent on A Colores; too-smooth keyboards and forgettable melodies don't help songs like "Cuchillos de Hielo" and "Harmonic Sea" transcend the "no words = boring" mindset.
Elsewhere, though, the band's knack for creating otherworldly moods makes for some arresting moments. In "Abrazo Distante", a harpsichord-like keyboard delicately picks out a descending melody, with a delay effect approximating small pebbles dropped into water. "La Tierra Sutil", based on mysterious keyboard lines, is an enchanting down-the-rabbit-hole aural maze. Some pieces are mere intervals, making you wish the band had developed them further, but they have a certain power, like a recurring snippet from a movie score. There was some doubt that Tristeza would continue after guitarist James LaValle's 2003 departure, but this release proves that they're hardly on the brink. Though A Colores is rather uneven, it's a compelling-- and more than competent-- effort.