|By David Dashifen Kees
Chilean progressive rock group Aisles delivered a sophomore album entitled In Sudden Walks in 2009 that is in no way sophomoric. From moment one, the album reveals a unique composition of sounds which display an understanding of music and a depth of theme and creativity that many other bands lack. Don’t be turned off by the number of tracks on the album (there are only six) because four of them are quite lengthy making the overall length of the album more than worth the cover price.
The sound of this album fuses a number of different styles into a rhapsodic whole that makes it a joy to listen to. Especially in three of the longer pieces, “Mariachi”; “Summer Fall”; and “the Maiden”, the instrumentalists are punctuated by the vocals which separate different motifs throughout each track. There’s a strong emphasis on acoustic guitars as well as synthesized sounds representing everything from Sci-Fi sound effects to pianos. This variety, primarily seen through the use of synthesizers but also including trumpets and flutes, present what is likely the most progressive part of the album.
Despite their South American home, Aisles sings primarily in English. In fact, the group only uses Spanish during spoken word sections of the first track, “Mariachi.” This dialog, spoken between a man and two women, is provided in the liner notes as if written for a play—even including some basic stage directions. There’s a nod to a director of this short theatrical piece, as well, though I was unable to find any video or translation of it, and my understanding of Spanish is such that I hesitate to try and do so myself. One other note about “Mariachi:” at times one of the actresses in the dialog moans in a dramatic and sexual manner. It might make the track NSFW depending on how loud you like your music!
The two shorter tracks of the album—the second and fifth—are far more traditional than the longer ones. It seems like the group lets their creativity flow a little more strongly when they have more time in which to do so. The longer tracks can quickly shift from rock to blues to jazz and back again sometimes changing every few seconds. Add to that key changes and a variety of atmospheric sounds like wind, sounds of leaves rustling, and what I can only call “sonic accents”—short bursts of synthesized sounds used to separate different sections of the pieces—make the longer tracks the highlight of the album over all.
The singing is provided by a number of the band members who are all men and who are all tenors; there are some female vocals provided by guests during the fourth track appropriately titled “the Maiden.” The lack of vocal variety, in contrast with the almost frenetic variety of instrumentation, is made up for by the strong harmony sung within the band. The strongest vocal piece of the album is likely “the Maiden” though “Revolution of Light,” the second track, is a close … err … second.
Pulling in at fifteen minutes, the final track, “Hawaii,” is unlike the others. Much of the album is upbeat and sounds optimistic. This one has a mournful, repetitive quality to the piece that makes it more cerebral than the rest of the album. Interestingly, this track has a story behind it, provided in the liner notes: one of the 200 surviving humans escaping a war-torn Earth brings with him a gramophone, ostensibly by which to remember music. Throughout the introduction to the piece, hissing and popping as if the track is actually played on such a device accompany vocals and accompaniment in the styles of decades past. Certainly, “Hawaii” is intellectually stimulating but it does have long stretches of slower, simpler sections with a soundscape feel to them as if simply listening to the piece lacks a visual or thematic portion of the piece. These sections happen in between the vocals, and effort must be taken in order to remain focused on this piece throughout. While this in no way indicates that the track is bad or even simply a low-point in the album, it does make it probably the hardest piece to understand on In Sudden Walks.
Aisles is a group I was happy to add to my music collection. In Sudden Walks has comfortably found a home as one of my favorite albums in recent memory. While it lacks the harder influences from the metal genres, I think progressive fans will find it a nice counterpoint to their other CDs consistently providing something new to notice with each subsequent listen. So enthusiastic was I about this one, I bought their earlier album, The Yearning released in 2005, and was similarly pleased. Unfortunately, try as I might, I was unable to find a good comparison for the group’s sound itself, perhaps because I’m not familiar with many other South American progressive groups or perhaps because they truly do have a unique quality that is wholly their own. If you’re intrigued by this review, I suggest sampling some of their tracks online to see if they suit your taste.