February 22nd, 2010
QA’A (pronounced, simply, “Ka”) is a Barcelona-based band on Màgia Roja, an indie psychedelic/noise record label. Their latest record, “Chi’en” (2009) was mixed and mastered at Faust Studios in Germany, with support from Hans Joachim Irmler himself. And after listening to it, it’s clear to me why Irmler might have become involved: “Chi’en” is a powerful effort that has much of the focus, daring, and breadth of vision of the great krautrock acts of the 60s and 70s.
This is a bold, uncompromising record. QA’A feels completely assured as it explores territory that’s by turns mantra-like and hypnotic, shrieking-atonal, funky-jazzy, spare and rustic, tribal and antic, or just plain unclassifiably alien. “Chi’en” operates on a daunting scale (six songs averaging over thirteen minutes apiece) and what’s impressive is that the songs are largely justified in their length — each track is a mini-LP unto itself, full of plot-twists, about-faces, climaxes and codas that, for the most part, cohere.
Take “Peeling Off”, 25 exhilarating, frightening minutes of everything from Cromagnon (the band, but also the early human) ritualistic mutterings, Amon Duul bonfire-chants, chiptune glitch-beats, Pollock-like tangles of guitar noise, and sax wails straight out of The Stooges’ “L.A. Blues”. This is obviously the kind of thing you’re either reading about right now and thinking: “Hell yes!” or “Umm, no” — soundscapes like this are a bit polarizing. Often, the only way a band can make 25 minutes of this kind of sound-adventure compelling is to either do what it does here and provide endless variety and richness of texture, or let the exploration unfold against a grid of pattern — something QA’A consistently does in “Chi’en” through recurring guitar motifs & catchy bass riffs. What this does is properly ground each song’s far-reaching explorations. Think of some of the more anarchic passages in “Daydream Nation”, where Shelley’s drumming can anchor Lee & Thurston’s twin Fender soundscapes. You have that kind of magic going on here on “Chi’en”, and it’s not only impressive as hell but a lot of fun to listen to — this is a band delighting in the possibilities of sound.
Other highlights include the way the guitars tidal-waved in about halfway through the opener, “Eastdown Westdown”, after a mysterious underwater opening full of tense, hushed vocals. The squalls of feedback at the track’s close provided satisfying release. I also loved the Can-like percussion breakdown mid-way through “Speaker Box”, and the whole of “She Provides”, with its menacing bassline, demented pitch-bent guitar riff, and firestorm of catharsis. It’s the second to last track, and by this point the record has grown steadily more exploratory with each song, culminating in the free-form lunacy of “Peeling Off”. “She Provides” in this context is like a seizure after some kind of bout of chemical madness. And after this kind of frenzy comes the only thing that can or should come — rest in the form of the pastoral, restrained, acoustic closer “Chi’en”.
The record has flaws — passages in some of the songs, particularly “Speaker Box”, overstay their welcome, even if you’re like me and don’t mind music taking its time to unfold. Also, some of the production and instrumentation feels like it’s only paying homage to the past, where involving more of the present would have been welcome (example: I would have loved more of the glitch-core breakdowns in “Peeling Off” dispersed throughout the record).
It’s rare that a record this vast & bursting with ideas and sounds (definitely try with a pair of good headphones), is able to hang together not only song by song but in its conception as a whole. This only happens when a band knows what it wants and isn’t afraid to take itself as seriously as its vision demands. That kind of presence in the world of contemporary psych/prog is rare — compromise and lack of technique find many bands noodling away in lo-fi under-reach. Not these guys. With “Chi’en” they’ve made a fearless second record that proves the spirit of late 60s experimental music is alive and well, thank you, and is living in Barcelona in a room in the House of QA’A.
C. Way/ SnailCrow.com © 2010
More of QA’A on the web: