Raw improvisation begins the latest offering from mellow-core duo Ex-Cocaine—hand percussion substitutes where Poor School incorporates a full kit but Esta Guerra is still imbued with a borderless conception of what belongs on an album. It hints at the direction Ramirez (the local rockologist is the common thread between the two bands, and here shares guitar and percussion duties with Michael Casler, who now resides in Minneapolis and reunites with Ex-Cocaine only intermittently) would head with ensuing project Poor School. But Esta Guerra then steers itself to a chanting ditty bearing up under a folk melody that soothes and sways.
That second track, “Sun Before Arises,” is not, however, clarion guitar strumming. Though unabrasive to the ear, the guitar riffs come washed through jangly filters, wavy pulsing chords that bump against one another—sometimes engaging, other times repelling, and generally reinforcing so that the effect simply builds. It’s all very hazy and pleasant.
Formlessness returns on “The Tempest” and it’s unclear what’s pushing what around for the next six minutes. There doesn’t seem to be any motive nor much of a willingness to retract and listen to what else is going on in the room; in this sense, Esta Guerra seems more naïve than The Holy Master.
More is in play on Esta Guerra than on The Holy Master. Ramirez and Casler switch from percussion to guitar and back throughout the album, which lends the effort an extra dimension of fluidity The Holy Master lacks. But with so much already open to exploration, Poor School benefits from the ability of its players to settle down, listen and wonder.
And so the strength of Esta Guerra—Ex-Cocaine’s debut on Philadelphia’s psych-soaked Siltbreeze—is ironic for an experimental album. An acid-soaked guitar rhythm (think of The Beatles Indian ashram jams) surfaces repeatedly as a sort of sonic motif. Backed by vocals more mantra than lyric, the melody is mesmerizing, capable of massaging a listener into comfort with the far reaches to which it’s stretched. (Jason Wiener)
Esta Guerra was released May 15 and is available locally at Ear Candy Music and Rockin Rudy’s.