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AstorVoltaires : BlackTombsForDeadSongs

If you're familiar with AstorVoltaires' debut, this second one is basically just more of the same.

AstorVoltaires is the solo project of Juan Escobar, multi-instrumentalist as well as producer and arranger of his own work. The ex-clavierist/singer of Mar de Grises has just released this sophomore album on Rain Without End records, and it's obvious to me - who knows and has reviewed Juan's first album, 'Katan Nagantü' - that this second one is basically just more of the same.

AstorVoltaires is, to summarily outline its portrait, the little, well-behaved cousin of Mar de Grises. You can hear they belong to the same family line: the genes of AstorVoltaires undoubtedly carry the same "progressive atmospheric Doom" marker. The comparison is unavoidable and revealing. But if the dark and sensual personality of the Chilean collective has put its imprint on the deep layers of Juan's solo project, these two still play on different grounds. AstorVoltaires explores more hushed ways, the music that Juan composes alone is round and velvety, where there are many asperities in Mar de Grises' songs. Almost "lounge", the atmospheres which emerge from these 12 tracks can also, between two mellow lines, get denser and burst in abrupt but expected storms.

Expected: that is a word which defines rather well the music on display. Our man has talent, there is no doubt about it, but his project also appears as a new example of the creative impoverishment that solitary work brings - often, not always - compared to the profitable exchange, rich in contradictions, more complex obviously, that collective work, when turned towards a common objective, demands.

Less dark and tormented than the albums of the big cousin, 'BlackTombsForDeadSongs' goes on its merry way in an unflappable mid-tempo. The music seems to float in a soft mist, drifting in phases with its various melodic articulations, first listlessly and without energy, then with eagerness, almost with violence. An erratic course which does not avoid the pitfall of monotony, however; because in this construction in ups and downs, you quickly see a system that becomes predictable by dint of careful repetition.

Vocal-wise, Juan varies between three basic registers: a clear voice in a soft halftone, another clear voice - more lyrical, higher pitched - and some good growls. These three registers are arranged in a way that they sometimes get superimposed, which brings depth and an interesting echo effect. The keyboard comes to enhance the languid guitar playing, like light and well-placed brushstrokes. The guitar sound is rather typical of the project, it has a warm tone, with a kind of undulation which makes a clever use of the various "colours" of vibrations: deep, high, loose, fat… The rhythm section is not that lively, on the other hand: too mechanical, too repetitive, again a recurring problem in one-man bands.

The piano, the appearance of a female voice on one track, contribute to the painting of a very Latin form of saudade, a heavy melancholic load which leaks out of the music, with elegance and without any ostentation. Between bitterness and softness, each song, if not very different from each other, distills a subtle venom which heats up your veins and numbs you too.

An album that is too polished, that's perhaps the essential reproach you can make to 'BlackTombsForDeadSongs': too polished to be really appealing. An absence of risk-taking which makes the listening too comfortable an experience. Having in mind the dark prowesses, the chaotic turmoil which Mar de Grises is capable of, I can only regret that our man shows such little daring - in the songwriting, in his vocal phrasing and in the way he makes use of his instruments. What remains has of course a great inherent quality and especially, a touching sincerity, which is unquestionably one of the most essential contributions of solo projects: you visit the album like an intimate voyage in personal memories. An interesting experience if not a real exciting adventure.

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Reviewer's rating: 5.5/10


Tracklist :
1. Rosas y Fuego
2. Como un Desierto
3. Nexo Estelar
4. Aroma a Tí
5. Tummasilmäinen
6. Quark
7. Thy Endless of Mourning`s Heart
8. Del Tiempo Irracional
9. Solo un Sueño
10. Gold
11. Donde Nada Existía
12. An Orphan Heartless

Duration : Approx. 56 minutes

Visit the AstorVoltaires bandpage.

Reviewed on 2012-12-30 by Bertrand Marchal
Hate Your Guts Records
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