Release date: March 10, 2008
Curb Your Cynicism is a recurring feature in which the music editor pithily enthuses about new releases and reissues he thinks will enhance your life and erode your cynicism about the state of music, circa now.
Guapo's Elixirs has been slept on for too long, for which I apologize. This is one of the most satisfying prog-rock releases to cross my desk in a long time. A lot of progressive rock exists only to flaunt the players' flamboyant technical abilities. It's music made strictly to impress other musicians . Sometimes this approach results in awesome music, provided the instrumentalists have soul and/or songwriting chops (see Mahavishnu Orchestra, Yes, Gentle Giant, King Crimson, et al.).
But there's another species of prog rock that's more about creating otherworldly moods and textures. That's the type of prog group Guapo are. Although their chops are tight, that's not their raison d'être. Consisting of Daniel O'Sullivan (Rhodes, piano, bass, guitars, harmonium, synths, electronics, autoharp and voice), David J. Smith (drums, percussion), Kavus Torabi (guitar) and James Sedwards (bass), Guapo operate in the same rarefied, quasi-ritualistic manner as artists like Popol Vuh, Third Ear Band, Moondog and Talk Talk ca. Laughing Stock.
Elixirs abounds with gorgeous melodies suffused in elegant tonalities, but nothing sounds obvious or played out. Rather, mystery imbues nearly every passage over the disc's six tracks (stretched over 58 minutes, all of them justified). “Twisted Stems: The Selenotrope” creepily evokes some of Goblin's soundtrack work for horror maestro Dario Argento or middle-period Swans when Jarboe sang with them. “King Lindorm” starts with a portentous metallic percussion and keyboard textures that recall bits of Pink Floyd's Ummagumma and a certain strain of gamelan or Tibetan Buddhist music. The piece transitions into some eerie Rhodes motifs (reminiscent of Soft Machine's Mike Ratledge) buttressed by an attractively lugubrious bass line and plangent guitar accents, before shifting into more of those Goblin-esque blood-chilling vibraphone lines and Red menace guitar riffs (i.e., Frippian). The track continues to subtly morph throughout its 15+ minutes, building in intensity and density, becoming ripe to score a suspenseful art-house thriller.
Elixirs is a towering achievement, as is Guapo's last album, the Zeuhl-esque Black Oni.