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Migala



Migala: anarchy, but of a coolly mellifluous, achingly melancholy, lushly instrumental variety. Also of a rather sophisticated, Spanish variety. If that doesn't sound anarchic, wait till you hear the way they combine sweet pop, coffeehouse confessionals, traditional Spanish folk music, bursts of electronics, and snippets of found sound. Perhaps anarchy isn't quite the right word, but you get the idea. Liberated postmodern bricollage that comes across as unified. Unified, perhaps more than anything else, by singer Abel Hernandez's warm, shuffling basso mutterings, which recall no one so much as Arab Strap's Aidan Moffat, though his vocals are a bit less caustic, a bit less vindictive, and often in Spanish. His voice weaves through a dazzling compositions dense with fingerpicked acoustic guitars, delicate electric guitars, elegiac strings, sighing keyboards and piano, metal and traditional percussion, accordion, heavy electronics, and scraps of Spanish television dialogue. The tempos are slow, the moods somber, the pieces incredibly intricately arranged. This is really strange, wonderful music, probably unlike anything you've heard anywhere else.

The Madrid sextet has declared its intention "to make classic songs with an uncanny atmosphere" and has been making good on that promise since its formation in 1996. The group's efforts to do so have earned it such high-profile American indie rock supporters as Will Oldham, Smog's Bill Callahan, and Red House Painters' Mark Kozelek. The group has released three LPs, Diciembre 3 A.M. (1997), Así Duele un Verano (1998), and most recently, Arde (2000), featuring "The Guilt" and the title track, all on Spain's Acuarela Records. The latter two are distributed in the U.S. by Darla Records.

Así Duele un Verano ("Thus the Summer Hurts"), saw the Spanish ensemble honing its unique brand of post-folk: a combination of lilting spaghetti western guitars, gentle acoustic textures, and quietly integrated effects. "Gurb Song" definitely echoes some of Arab Strap's stuff, only the lyrics are Spanish-accented and the tone is searching, poignant, and contemplative, rather than caustic and self-flagellating.

Arde ("It Hurts") is simply a masterpiece of moody lyricism and daring orchestration. Electric and acoustic guitars, strings, keyboards, accordions, clean percussion, and random scraps of found sound (banal dialogue from a Spanish television program, the jarring crash of a car accident) all coalesce into something so dark and so lovely. "Arde" is a gorgeous seven-minute instrumental track which opens with ambient street noise, keys, and crashing percussion, before building into a strange but glorious instrumental composition which includes the rattle of a train and loops of Spanish conversation. "The Guilt" is one of the album's highlights, combining beautiful guitars, strings, and vocals with a sense of dread. As with Migala's previous albums, the songs are a mix of Spanish and English, but whether you understand the words or not, you'll understand the tone of complex regret.

Over the course of their three albums and several intense European tours, Migala evolved considerably, adding a seventh member in guitarist Nacho Vegas, performing live with greater pathos than ever, and consolidating their instrumental lineup and vast array of sound sources. At a crossroads following a tour which took them to Belgium, Holland, France, and Portugal, Migala's members cast about for the next step and wound up revisiting their earlier recordings. There they found ten compositions they'd considered finished at the time. But the fire of Arde had stripped away the superfluous aspects of the group's aesthetic, and so Migala decided to re-render these songs, stripping them to their elemental cores and shaping them into Restos de un Incendio ("Remainders of a Fire"). On this remarkable album, Migala sounds more balanced than ever before, striking an astonishing balance between whispery delicate post-folk and bombastic guitar-based atmospheric rock. "El Retraso," ("The Delay") a tensely quiet piece featuring voice, piano, the faintest bass drum, and slight ambient sounds punctuated by terse staccato bursts of sound, demonstrates this perfectly. The fragile almost-country saunter of "El Pasado Diciembre," with its hovering keys and harmonica echoes, hints at the sun-baked melancholy of Giant Sand. "El Ultimo Devaneo" ("The Last Fling") is a beautiful example of Migala's potent blend of poignant, emotive lyricism, folk instrumentation, and ambient electronic sound.

Migala's highly original style has earned them a ton of "sounds likes" in music critics' reviews -- Arab Strap, Will Oldham, Songs: Ohia, Tindersticks, Leonard Cohen, and even Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds -- and while all of those comparisons help a bit, none of them comes close to getting at the heart of Migala's sound. There's nothing like this group.