Expectations for the second album from Spanish trio Atavismo were set pretty high following their gorgeously cosmic and serene 2014 debut, Desintegración (review here). Inerte makes short work of them. Expanding from four to five included tracks, it sees guitarist/vocalist/synthesist Jose “Poti” Moreno (ex-Viaje a 800, Mind!), bassist/vocalist Mateo and drummer/vocalist Sandri Pow (also ex-Mind!) push brazenly past the fluid textures of their first outing and hold onto some sense of ethereal psych-jazz jamming — hola, “El Sueño” — as they find ultimately more progressive footing.
Released like its looser-feeling-in-hindsight predecessor through Temple of Torturous, Inerte answers some of the questions the band posed with the space-rocking single “Haribo” (discussed here) and affirmed for their audience that they’ll not necessarily be defined by one course or another, one sound or another, and that their goal is far more individualized than to simply execute the tenets of heavy psychedelia, space or prog rock, even as their aesthetic pulls from each of those and more besides. Songs like “Belleza Cuatro” and opener “Pan y Dolor” offer distinctive moments of resonance marked by beautiful melodies and rhythm that can either be insistent and winding, as in “Pan y Dolor”‘s first half, or barely there at all, something carrying the song forward like a gentle river current, as in the drifting guitar-led midsection of the aforementioned, 11-minute “El Sueño.” This nuanced blend is presented with a lush but natural production captured this past October at Trafalgar Estudios in Cádiz, and does nothing across its 42-minute span to rescind the invitation to the listener issued by its in medias res launch.
The tighter feel of Inerte and the uptick in progressive influence from Atavismo is as immediate as that launch itself. A quick, fuzzy lead line careens into forceful Iberian acoustic strum as the vocals arrive for the first verse. It happens fast, but is welcoming nonetheless, and a play back and forth between the electric and acoustic ensues between chorus and verses for the next several minutes, Moreno and Pow and Mateo singing together in classically prog form as a kind of mini-chorus themselves — an element of space rock willfully repurposed and put to excellent use. Shortly before the halfway point of its eight-and-a-half-minute run, “Pan y Dolor” breaks into a wash of guitar and keys/Mellotron that is as hypnotic as it is joyous, with just an undercurrent of foreboding, cutting itself off at 6:48 in order to reintroduce the acoustic strum and resume the song’s prior course, as if to say, “don’t worry, it was just a dream.” It may well have been, and if so, it wasn’t the last.
“Pan y Dolor” builds to its conclusion and “El Sueño” kicks in with lower tone and a deceptively fast tempo, Mateo‘s bass more prominent in the mix. This is the bed over which vocals soar for another soon-arriving verse, and their being somewhat more drawn out — notes held longer — than the opener prefaces the turn into calmer fare that the second track makes at about the 4:20 mark, the tension Atavismo have thus far mounted seeming to let itself go in favor of more improvised-sounding jamming driven by fuzzed-out psychedelics and effects flourish that settles in a delight of meandering wah and builds to an apex over its last couple minutes as it recalls its own early going without necessarily returning to it outright. That jam carries Inerte‘s longest inclusion to its finish and the finish of side A, ending in a cymbal wash and surge of guitar noise that emphasizes the live feel it has fostered all along.
Centerpiece “La Maldición del Zisco” backs sparse guitar with a steady bass and drum progression and fills out its arrangement with keys, using the guitar more as an outward-ringing accent to its early verses, spacious and patient, before it at last launches into what one might call its chorus right around three minutes in. It’s a moment of taking flight through sound and Atavismo make the most of it in terms of thrust, but they’re still not forcing the song to go anywhere it doesn’t want to go.
They dip back into the verse easily and return to the mostly-instrumental chorus quicker the second time through, then proceed to jam their way out of the track, fading to silence just before the seemingly complementary “Belleza Cuatro” — the two are the shortest cuts on Inerte at 6:18 and 5:18, respectively — takes hold in a soothing trance of liquefied guitar and keys. Its importance in being positioned as the penultimate track before 10-minute closer “Volarás” shouldn’t be understated, and as Moreno, Mateo and Pow drift toward that grand finale, they do so with no less purpose behind them than they had rushing at the outset of “Pan y Dolor.” Vocal harmonies echo under sweet lines of guitar and softly-thudding drums, and a louder, fuller tone rises in the second half, but they still cap quietly, which gives the percussion/keyboard opening of “Volarás” an even more dramatic sensibility. This is something of a ruse, on the band’s part — another dream, maybe — because just after three minutes of building to who knows what, they juke left and shift into a particularly Floydian blend of lightly-strummed guitar, keys, bass and drums, a memorable keyboard line serving as the core around which the rest is placed.
This will be the movement that carries Atavismo out of their second record, and it seems to be a final highlight of the point that their progression is by no means a settled issue. It is striking how many different looks the band gives in these five tracks and how able they are to tie them together as a single flowing work. As “Volarás” quietly makes its way out, Inerte seems to have done as much through understatement as through its reaching new heights, and if it’s in that balance that Atavismo will find their place, then all the better. Whatever they do going forward — Moreno and Pow also have a new four-piece project in the works with former Viaje a 800 guitarist Jose Angel “Oceano” Galindo called Híbrido, adding intrigue to this release — Atavismo have exceeded the potential their debut showed with Inerte and given their listeners a work of depth and breadth that should be treasured for years to come.