Though on the surface its core of warm-toned heavy psychedelia seems straightforward enough, I’ve yet to listen to Given to Emptiness, the second full-length through Nasoni Records from Basque five-piece Arenna, and not hear something new within its span. And it usually doesn’t take all that long, either. The album, which follows their 2011 debut, Beats of Olarizu (review here), is constructed around rich tones and varied arrangements, still jamming and exploratory in the post-Colour Haze tradition, but prone to heavier excursions like that which emerges on “Move through Figurehead Lights,” its impact made all the more forceful by a stretch of acoustic guitar proceeding. As with the first record, the fivesome of bassist Javi, drummer Guille, guitarists Kike (a regional nickname, pronounced like “Quique,” short for Enrique; also acoustics and Tibetan bowls on closer “Low Tide”) and R. Ruiz del Portal (also mellotron on “Visions of Rex”), and vocalist Txus Dr. Sax — who most often backs himself but is joined periodically by Poti (also of Atavismo, formerly Viaje a 800) and Jony Moreno (also of Soulbreaker Company) in the chorus, Poti also handling Mellotron throughout the album and theremin on “Move through Figurehead Lights” — revel in a laid back atmosphere while conjuring fluid expanses of heavy psych, but where Beats of Olarizu topped 68 minutes, Given to Emptiness pares down to an efficient single LP just over 47, its seven tracks cleanly split between two sides, each demarcated by its longest component piece, the longest of which, “Butes,” opens the outing at 10:20.
Immediate points for that, and make it double since they open both sides with the longest track, “Chroma” answering from side B with a nine-minute rollout. “Butes” makes a gorgeous wash to start off Given to Emptiness, gradually unfolding to work in direct contrast to the title of the album, its turns leading it along a building path but showcasing a patience that will come to typify a lot of what they do throughout. Setting the tone, as it were. They do so with liquefied grooves and guitar interplay, soulful vocals from Txus Dr. Sax and a steady nod that holds sway for the duration. This lushness continues into the building “Visions of Rex,” the swirl of which is always present but never overdone, and forward through “Drums for Sitting Bull” (streamed here), which recalls some of the more straightforward moments of the debut but blends them smoothly with the sprawling vibes elicited already throughout the first two cuts. “Drums for Sitting Bull” marks an appearance from both Poti and Moreno on backing vocals, and they’re put to more than solid use, though it’s ultimately Dr. Sax himself who carries the apex of the song over with a sort of wavering, watery presence in his voice. Whether that’s an effect or not, I don’t know, but it’s striking either way, and Arenna roll their way through the end of the track afterwards — Javi‘s bass is a must-hear for appreciators of low end — with the drums dropping out and kicking back in to push the final groove to its eventual crash and ring out, feedback fading to close side A. Already the atmosphere is set for languid, jam-based vibing, but the band’s penchant for deeper arrangements with the touches of Mellotron, additional vocals, acoustics and even just swapping out one effect for another showcase a sense of wanting each track to add something to the larger whole of the effort, and that proves no less true of the four tracks included on side B.
In the spirit of “Butes,” “Chroma” takes its time in shifting from its dreamy opening of guitar, cymbal washes and airy swirls to move into its Mellotron-topped breadth, but unlike the album-opener, the side B launch is instrumental save for a late-arriving sample to mark the landing of the progression’s peak. “Chroma” turns and shifts and undulates naturally, a fuzz-caked nod that many among the converted wouldn’t even try to resist let alone have the ability to do so, but gives way to “Move through Figurehead Lights” — a no less otherworldly opening, even if it’s the drums this time leading the charge — without pretense, that track’s subtle volume swells and quiet vibing met just before the two-minute mark by acoustic guitar (courtesy of a guest spot by Manix S.) and vocals that come to drive the build as much as serve as part of it. It’s the voices of Dr. Sax, Poti and Moreno, in a non-lyricized “ohh” chorus near the end that almost become a riff of their own working in conjunction with the bass and drums along with the solo, and they carry through an almost spiritual celebration, which can’t help but add gravity to “The Pursuer,” which follows. A bit of symmetry with “Drums for Sitting Bull” in terms of structure, maybe, but “The Pursuer” has its own personality to be sure, in open verses and alternating echoes of guitar that, with the vocals, shift in the second half of the song to the album’s most purposefully pretty melody, giving way near the end as Arenna come as close as they have to any sort of aggression in progressive start-stop riffing to close out. With the epilogue, 1:41 “Low Tide” at the finish with its quiet acoustics for a last moment of contemplation, Given to Emptiness ends with something of a lonely mood, but even there I’m fairly certain there are (at least) two layers of guitar working at the same time, so even in its most minimal stretch, it remains far from empty. Somewhat understated in this review up to this point is the emotional resonance of the vocals, which are a driving force in engrossing and holding the listener’s attention throughout, but they’re far from the only aspect of Arenna‘s sound working in their favor. Their sophomore album also marks a decade of their tenure, and one can hear their experience and their chemistry in each track as Given to Emptiness unfolds, its patience never meandering so far from the overarching sense of a design at work that it’s unable to return.