Review By Everett Saucedo
Special to the El Paso Times
War is hell. But the sounds it makes can be pretty cool. "The Nerve," the first track off "The Mystery 909" by Aux 78, introduces itself with the rumblings of artillery exploding beyond the horizon. After the shelling ends, "The Nerve" pops itself into focus with a drum and bass riff a-la Nancy Sinatra that snaps along at a drill instructor's cadence beat.
War, rest, more war, chaos and eventually, peace; in one song, Aux 78, the solo project of local musician Nicholas Matta, proves that music can speak volumes without saying a word.
Going on his seventh year as Aux 78, Matta (who also performs in local band The Sea Legs) and "Mystery" will probably please fans of such instrumental-heavy bands such as Man ... Or Astroman?, Shadowy Men On a Shadowy Plant, and Southern Culture On The Skids. Genre fans, however, may not, as "Mystery" refuses to be pigeonholed into any one category.
A careful listener can pick out jazzy percussion beats, country steel guitars, surf rock and musical influences ranging from The Ventures to Angelo Badalamenti to The White Stripes, but these are merely ingredients to the mélange and not the final product.
Matta's ability to play instruments ranging from percussion toys to accordions shows, as he is single-handedly responsible for all the sounds heard on "Mystery."
This includes everything from guitars that ring like tubular bells guitars to art-house chic voiceovers that don't say much and are merely window-dressing for the music itself. The end result is music that can convey an amazing range of emotions and images, if the listener is willing to play along.
If "The Nerve" has you dodging AK-47 fire and R & R'ing in Thailand, the self-titled third track sucks you back to mysteries and horrors on the mainland, with a slow and deliberate rhythm riff overlain by a softly wailing guitar.
Also noteworthy is "Guns That Smoke," which takes a needed somber turn. It is a soft, melancholy tune which opens with the sounds of machines grinding against one another but shortly thereafter gives way to a simple four-beat drone as heavy as it is beautiful. It is also a great example of Matta's ability to infuse his music with emotion; if you were ducking cannonballs earlier, you are now picking up the pieces of your home in the aftermath of a hurricane.
One of the best surprises of "Mystery" is "Broken Bones," the only vocal song and Matta's stab at making a country song. "Broken Bones" overshoots the line-dancing country of Garth Brooks or Tim McGraw and squarely hits the drunk-mean and sad honkey-tonk that Hank Williams Sr. and Jim Ed Brown's row of fools on a row of stools inhabit. The lyrics of "Broken Bones' may not sound overtly country, but there's no doubt its soul is.
"Mystery" ends on a kitchy accordion-driven tune that seems pulled from the closet of French junk culture. It's actually a happy little song that's cute on its own but seems out of step with the rest of the album.
Either way, "Mystery" is a stellar example of Matta's abilities both as musician and communicator.
Written, Arranged, Performed and Produced by Aux.78 / Nicholas Matta
Recorded at The Mystery 909 Recording Facility, El Paso TX 10/2002-03/2003
released March 3, 2003
Aux.78 / Nicholas Matta : Guitar, Bass, Drums, Percussion, Programming, Clarinet, Keyboards, Kazoo, Accordian, Trumpet, Vocals, Sampling
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