CLAP AWAY Olas.
It's hard to believe, surely, considering bands like Cerberus Shoal, Fire on Fire, and his solo work, but Chriss Sutherland may have outdone himself again with Olas. The band, rooted in flamenco and folk, have released a debut album in La Perla that positively lives and breathes, it's so organic throughout its nine songs and 53 minutes. He's fronting a new collective that ripples with energy, an infectious group that at times seems to be making music out of thin air.
Sometimes equated with jazzy American blues, flamenco is free-spiritedness combined with a reveling in sorrow and despair that results in desperately emotional music sometimes improvised on the spot. Each of the eight musicians here is credited with "palmas," or hand-claps, but in this music the palmas are an essential percussion background, not just the flavoring you might hear in pop songs. And it's not just the hands that are used here. Lindsey Bourassa and Megan Keogh are also credited with zapateado, which is both the name of a flamenco-related dance and also the practice of a tap-dance-like percussion that is part of the flavor of this music and this album. Tack on Dylan Blanchard (Grupo Esperanza) playing bongo and the cajon (an Afro-Peruvian drum) and the percussion rolls and roils throughout the disc and gives off a rippling energy that's more than a little contagious.
Listen to the way they build up the open of "Eso Es Lo Que You Soy" ("Is that What I Am"). It's some of the coolest percussion-as-melody I've heard in a long time. It's also nice to hear the chuckle that precedes the song — at least some assurance that these guys aren't impossibly serious all the time. (Yet more kudos for Ron Harrity, by the way, for capturing this all so authentically.)
Leif Sherman Curtis (AoK Suicide Forest, Moneycastasia, Conifer) is on guitar and contributes some writing here, and his background in heavy music can only but lend an aggressiveness and passion that's particularly evident in the opening "La Luz En Mi Vida." Per the translation, it's an ode to a lover, but let's just say the protagonist is particularly insistent about the beauty of his gal.
That's Sutherland doing the singing, obviously, so the aggression is his, too. He never does anything halfway, and he seems particularly invested in this project. His "El Tiempo" has tremendous drive, a continuous forward motion that's impossible to resist. It's more than a little amazing. The sublime chorus translates to "I take the time/I eat the time." It makes sense when you hear it.
The only tune in English is "Lust for Swords," and lyricist Bourassa twists and turns the language playfully: "I can't bend any further/If you refuse to believe." A relatively simple guitar opens, just running up and down the strings in the same couple of chords, then in comes the ney, a sort of recorder/flute mix played by old friend Tom Kovacevic (Cerberus Shoal, Fire on Fire), and percussion that floats below Sutherland's ethereal vocals: It's a song you can get completely lost in, until the drone pulls you forward from the gut.
This is an album that you feel as much as hear, and it may be something you've never felt before.
Sam Pfeifle can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.
LA PERLA | Released by Olas | at Mayo Street Arts, in Portland | Nov 12 | olasmusicanddance.com