Love is a Stream and Jefre Cantu-Ledesma knows how to glide along
MUSIC Local multi-instrumentalist and Root Strata label cofounder Jefre Cantu-Ledesma has titled his newest solo album, Love is a Stream (Type), but the watercourse this robust and unexpectedly sharp collection of dazzlers brings to mind is Niagara Falls.
Whether he's playing a pastoral variant of psych rock with his more recent project The Alps or improvising a soundtrack to one of Paul Clipson's gorgeous 8mm films, a careful attention to timbre and a nimble, even delicate, shaping of sound through the graduated addition of sonic elements have always been trademarks of Cantu-Ledesma's musicianship.
Love is a Stream is, in some ways, a sustained exploration of what happens to timbre when you keep piling sounds on top of each other. Cantu-Ledesma smears what sounds like racks of overdriven keyboards and the warped buzz of a hundred guitars into thick, shimmering fog banks, as if following Iggy Pop's lead when he remixed Raw Power in 1997 so that it sounded more "in the red."
Variations exist across the album's 12 beatless and wordless tracks, but they can be easily missed if one isn't listening closely. Opener "Stained Glass Body" warms up with 20 seconds of tonal clusters ham-fisted on a Casio and keening vocals until a tangled low-end of what sounds like processed-to-bits guitar burrows up through the mix, building to a sustained crescendo of speaker-shredding intensity. This quick and early peaking is consistent over the next 45 minutes, with brief moments of respite spaced throughout (track five, "Body Within Body," and track nine, "Womb Night," keep things at a comparative simmer).
"Orbiting Love" is a church bell carol as reorchestrated by the Cocteau Twins and fed through dying computer speakers. "White Dwarf Butterfly" perfectly recaptures the enveloping hiss and warped cassette-like warble of My Bloody Valentine's "To Here Knows When" (listening to the two tracks simultaneously produces a smile-inducing complementarity not unlike one of Humphry Slocombe's less outré taste combinations). The appropriately titled closing track "Mirrors Death" ends the album on a more meditative note, as a recurring rumble gently breaks apart an ice floe of quietly droning guitars, until it too has sputtered into silence.
The My Bloody Valentine comparison is inevitable with an album such Love is A Stream, and with a musician of lesser gifts than Cantu-Ledesma, it could be taken as faint praise. As was noted in this paper's recent profiles of local acts Weekend and Tamaryn, the continued influence of shoegaze can be heard all over contemporary indie music but it takes more than a studied replica of Kevin Shields' "glide guitar" to build something decidedly new — or even fresh — when working with well-worn floor plans.
Like the beautiful, overdriven digital tsunamis of Tim Hecker or Christian Fennesz, Love is A Stream employs a familiar vocabulary to new ends. I hope Cantu-Ledesma, at least for the next little while, continues to keep things turned up to 11.