Here is one of the stranger records of the year. Instrumental, experimentalist jam quartet Halaska combine found sound architecture, funk, prog, world music, offbeats and various outre sound effects on top of their mix of drums, bass, guitar and keys. The members, Dieter Geisler, Logal Giles, Michal Lentz and Gonzalo Ramos, are extremely tight with one another, even as they play profoundly avante-garde music. Their approach, and the fact that their music is instrumental, makes the band’s new album, Los Angeles, Texas, feel less like a collection of songs and more like one, sustained listening experience.
This is a mark in its favor. The album is quite short, with 11 tracks loping by in 27 minutes. Each song, from the buzzy “Free Mason Jars” to the vaguely Western “Baroque Ninjas,” twists and turns unexpectedly with tempo changes, dynamic shifts and intricate layers of melodies and rhythms. There are also a few tracks that are little more than effects-laden sound clips.
While there are few melodies that are unforgettably catchy, the continued sway of the music gets under your skin. Halaska’s ability to go from ska grooving to hard metal shredding in the space of 10 seconds is pretty astounding. The horn intro on “Funk Hauser” is a mid-record energy pill. On the other end of the spectrum, “Space Yam” trades the usually manic efforts for a galactic, bass-driven piece that’s disarmingly lovely. The album finale, “Occupie Eating Contest,” underlies its tongue-in-cheek title with a soaring climax.
In Halaska, Austin has something that grabs ahold of the same irreverent, far-out worldview of The Butthole Surfers, Frank Zappa, Primus or another close-to-home group, Opposite Day. Like these groups, Halaska comes with stars in their eyes and chops at their fingers. I’m confident that one day, as Halaska hones its craft, the band will create a work on par with their influences.
Final Grade: ****1/2 (out of five)