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Power Transition – Aurelio Valle of Calla brings his Solo Debut

Aurelio Valle
Acme Power Transmission
Nuevo Leon Recordings

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I don’t know if you remember Calla or not but they were a bracing breath of freshly corrugated air back in the earlier part of this century with a Velvets take on americana-laced indie that set them apart from most of their Son Volted peers (Songs:Ohia would be a close if somewhat sleepier neighbor). Over six full-lengths spanning eight years (’99-’07) the Brooklyn-by-way-Austin band fronted by Aurelio Valle brought what was generally a more jagged-toothed sensibility to the alt:nation masses. There might’ve still been the prettified strum of acoustic at times but it was often shadowed by a distant howl of feedback and a lurking bassline that together suggested something a tad more menacing was coiling in the air. And though they grew more forcefully melodic as the aughts ticked past (Collisions is especially packed with grandeur, albeit the dark alluring type), not even the muscle of a Beggars Banquet could hurtle them out of the economic straitjacket of being something of a cult band and after the ironically-titled Strength In Numbers LP Calla went on indefinite hiatus.

In the wake of the band pitching it in Valle went into contemplative seclusion, working for a while in motorcycle repair – the album’s title here derived from his landlord’s auto parts store where he’d buy his spark plugs and gear boxes – then in a bespoke tailor’s shop, letting the grind and weave of his relative isolation sink in. Emerging only infrequently into a brief musical spotlight – scoring the German film Zarte Parasiten in 2009, for instance, an indicator of the textural direction his muse was taking him – Valle mostly kept to himself while maintaining an active curiosity in sound. Intrepidly he stayed away from the guitar – a too known, too comfortable quantity – and focused on learning new skills, new instruments, learned to play drums. All of which might have remained in a state of perpetual process had Valle not been forced to move last year from his apartment under the el, the place he’d lived throughout those last six plus years of creative reassessment. Providence often pushes us down unforeseen paths and in Aurelio Valle’s case it led him to release his solo debut Acme Power Transmission¬†on Nuevo Le√≥n Recordings, nine tracks of heartful, atmospheric, darkpop tapestries that seduce and disturb and I think we should all give Madame Providence a round of appreciative applause.

 

First off, be reassured. There is guitar, both more or less out front – the moody, irresistible scrape of opener “Bruised and Diffused;” “Movement”‘s gritty interpretation of New Romantic slink – and in piquant accent – pretty much everywhere else. There is also a surfeit of Calla-esque melody and heavy-hooked progression, which was inevitable, really, as the man seems incapable of delivering anything but. There’s also, however, a vibrant stream of sonic adventurousness, dimensions buoyed by dimensions, leading certain tracks, such as the playful, serrated “Superhawk,” down a deliriously rutted psych groove, phasing and echo and a throb of madness all in service to a percolating three-minute shuffle, the trailaway honk of a midway sax taking us down who knows what alley. Quite willingly, we follow.

aurelio new pic

“Deadbeat” suggests Suicide had they tried their hand at funk, which is to say not funky at all but regardless endowed with a fearless and decisive rhythmic pluck inside that trademark density, while conjoined synths, a quick and disturbed Chic guitar bit then a late-arriving treated guitar squall all surround Valle’s cool vocal phrasings (“I will raise you up, I could bring you down“). “Cowboy,” meanwhile and perhaps appropriately, is Sparklehorse updated, given a deeper mournful sheen but no less hopeful for all that, the refrain “I’ve been waiting for something new” as resonant as anything on this album.

Twice we get short, sumptuous interludes. “Centuries”‘s looming cinematic gloom, Teutonic clouds brought home from his soundtrack work, and “Kino,” similar in art house appeal but with more of a heavy Belle Epoque wistfulness. Both are beautiful, brief entrancements but the highlight here may well be the transfixing, penultimate “Electraglide,” with its bass-led darkwave feel given a double-tracked gleam of frost by Cardigan Nina Persson. A patterned drum track jumping up through the mist, assisted by several layers of warm icy effects (and yes that makes sense) as well a very groovetastic lead-aspirational rhythm guitar, it’s a come-back-to track that continually rewards, I’m on my third helping and I’m still nodding away like a desk-dancing fool.

Taken out by “Lost Again,” bathed in a persistent whisper of softened anguish rimmed in a pervasive sense of grateful solitude, a reverby air saturating the track in longing and farewell, we’re left in a state suspended, hope and despair twinned and twisted together like some sort of misguided but defiant caduceus. Much, then, like Calla used to leave us if in a far more intimate – and intriguing – way. The decision to vacate those seven years ago, no doubt daunting at the time, could not have been more validated than it is by this record. Call it a power transition, in overdrive.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

[Acme Power Transmission is available here]