Nothing has been heard from the Guapo camp since 2005’s Black Oni on Ipecac Records and founding member Matt Thompson’s untimely departure from the fold. The remaining duo of keyboardist Daniel O’Sullivan (who now assumes all guitars and bass from Thompson’s vacancy) and drummer David Smith take up the helm of this UK-based experimental, mostly no-vocals group quite admirably, as Elixirs could be their most varied album yet.

Very long compositions define Guapo’s sonic aesthetic, and three of the six tracks on Elixirs clock in at over ten minutes. The thirteen-minute opener “Jeweled Turtle” resembles a doom dirge played by a modern, interpretive strings ensemble. The song has several peaks, creeping along like Mandible Chatter covering early Pink Floyd. Violin, viola, vintage synths, and quiet percussion give the track subtle, Middle Eastern undertones. The ten-minute “Arthur, Elise and Frances” begins with proggish noise similar to Yes’ “Sound Chaser” then expands into metered passages of Larks Tongues-era King Crimson-like chugging with tasteful, Skeleton Key-inspired percussion.

The two-part “Twisted Stems” suite is unique, and not only because of the added vocals: “The Heliotrope” is an amalgamation of Trial of the Bow-like percussion, Bee and Flower arrangements, and If I Could Only Remember My Name-era David Crosby guitar pickings and echoing, male vocal harmonies. “The Selenotrope,” by contrast, features the decidedly female vocals of the Swans’ Jarboe and resembles a sultry ballad (played in a bar for the undead) that’s punctuated throughout by a snare march and clanking cymbal crashes. “The Planks,” an oddity at only three minutes, changes the mellow atmosphere immediately with frenzied dervishes and Klezmer-esque progressions.

The fifteen-minute closer, “King Lindorm,” is a looser but no less dense cut that progresses through several phases of mood swings. It’s most closely connected to the disjointed experimentation of Starless and Bible Black-era Crimson, fastened by a repeating keyboard chord progression and augmented by noodly yet fluid guitars and jazzy drum beats. It also shares a common vibe with 2004’s Five Suns on Cuneiform Records but minus that album’s noisy bombast. Elixirs shows Guapo embracing a vibrant, free-form jazz slant for fans of Magma, Can, and Amon Düül II with plenty of unexpected instrumentation for the experi-metal crowd.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Chris Ayers
December 20th, 2008


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