El Guapo – The Geography of Dissolution

El Guapo
The Geography of Dissolution

El Guapo’s The Geography of Dissolution is most certainly not for pop radio listeners.
The band is not concerned about song structures, writing catchy hooks, or even attempting to create anything that could remotely be called “conventional” popular music. The fluctuating members of El Guapo (four members participate on this live release) are students of music, and they study through hands-on experimentation. They are interested in studying tonality and inflection and in dissecting instruments into their most primal forms. On The Geography of Dissolution, El Guapo successfully disassembles various attributes of punk, jazz and progressive rock before reassembling them into a hybrid that is a truly unique sonic collage.
The band, at one point, was supposedly a far more conventional pop-punk-oriented minimal outfit (first as a guitar and drum duo, and then as a power trio) before temporarily expanding to the experimental four-piece represented here. In reality, the only mainstay members of El Guapo are founding members Rafael Cohen and Justin Moyer, who have led the band through its various metamorphases.
The Geography of Dissolution is not an easy listen. Conventional song structures aren’t very evident, and the band tends to blend song into song so that each of these two separate live sets listen like half-hour mini-concertos. With this live release, El Guapo takes an approach geared towards minimalism and dissonance. The instrumentation is sparse and varied (English Horn, glockenspiel, accordion, and oboe), while the performance itself at first comes off jagged and rather random. Dissonance, however, seems to be the main theme of The Geography of Dissolution, as both sets end rather abruptly during what can best be described as ‘closing drones.’
This dissonance masks a lot of underlying emotions in the band’s eclectic tones, however. Just tossing the CD into a player and turning up the volume doesn’t truly qualify as listening to The Geography of Dissolution. Just one, two, three, or even five plays simply is not enough. The sounds are designed to sneak up on unsuspecting ears. What at first sounds like a primitive jazz experiment transforms into the surreal and haunting tones of “Collage/Charty #1,” complete with vocals that are subtly full of emotion as they quietly cry out from the mix. An umpteenth random listening of “Go For It Like Xtreme! Sports” becomes an overwhelming experience as the quiet beauty of the bass, guitar and keyboards finally seem to make sense. Meanwhile, “Bow-E” moves along from psychotic bass slapping to a minimalist haunting drone as a thick, humming keyboard lays the foundation for a completely unnerving oboe solo; a set of plaintive vocals closes out the experience, leaving spellbound ears in the song’s wake. The dark cadence of “The Snowmen” also stands out, creating obvious tension with the horns and keyboard that spike various parts of the piece.
While the second set (titled “The Grid”) seems a bit more devoid of the spectacular (albeit underlying) sonic blessings present in the first set, The Geography of Dissolution is quite the trip into experimental music. El Guapo’s sound is definitely able to be defined as ‘unique,’ which is a rare enough quality to warrant giving this disc at least a courtesy listen based on that fact alone. However, I will give yet another **WARNING** about El Guapo – The Geography of Dissolution may be unusual, but it’s good stuff. Just prepare yourself for a listening experience that actually requires both thought and effort on the part of the listener.