Local rock trio El Valiente's instrumentals were fairly complex to begin with, stretching through parts that felt more like distinct scenes than they did verses, bridges, or choruses. The transitions between those scenes on the band's 2007 CD, El Topo, were chaotic and powerful, as guitar hooks melted into disorienting free-rhythm spaces, or quiet, atmospheric passages heaved into outbursts of spastically attacked guitar. A lot of that chaos is gone on the band's new CD, Daceton (which they'll celebrate with a show Friday at The Frequency). The band's increasingly popular local gigs have made them tighter, more confident, and perhaps even better songwriters. Well, whatever the reason, Daceton's songs are as tight and to-the-point as eight- or 10-minute instrumentals get.
The moments where Eric Caldera's guitar, drummer Joe Bernstein's glockenspiel, and David Sperka's bass all focus in on the same hook are among the most memorable, especially in the creepily quiet middle of "Jewish-Mexican Phantom." It's a fine example of how Caldera mixes lyrical Latin music and spooky Western scores into the band's distinctly non-bloated take on epic post-rock. The tunes on El Topo were catchy, but the melodies weren't quite so patiently fleshed out or boldly played. Here, they lead the songs.
Then again, so does Bernstein. It's impressive that he can play drums and glockenspiel at once, but more importantly, the guy can play drums. Again, it's hard to say why, but on Daceton, it's easier to hear how much he branches out beyond the already difficult task of carrying these multi-phase songs through changes in time and tempo. "Chico Chism & Chico Hamilton" is pretty much Bernstein's place to rule, as he quietly rumbles and rattles around Caldera's sparse guitar intro, kicks it up into a more rocking section, and then switches one hand over to the glockenspiel—basically holding down interplay with the guitar on two fronts. This is really cool to watch live, and most of the album was recorded live in studio. The production is simple, but it doesn't cramp the band's spacious sound. Daceton also includes live versions of the title track (named for a genus of ants, which Caldera studies as a grad student) and El Topo's "Emergency Caller/Utah Desert" recorded at Café Montmartre, complete with that venue's infernal crowd chatter.
On this album, Caldera says, "We pushed ourselves technically. It seems like there were many instances along the way where we would stumble upon an idea that we wanted to pursue, but it seemed beyond our reach. However, in many of those cases, perhaps stubbornly, we would hang on to those ideas until they came together, sometimes to our own surprise." Agreed. Even for a band Decider liked a lot in the first place, El Valiente keeps up the excitement here because it has grown over the past couple of years. Isn't that what second albums should be about?
-Scott Gordon, The Onion A.V. Club