Ahleuchatistas — Two Is Kinetic Enough
By Bryan Reed
Asheville out-rockers follow new muses for their sixth album, Location Location
It’s rare, but not impossible, to make a second impression as impactful as the first. Stasis diminishes impact. But a reinvention is an opportunity to greet the world anew.
The existence of Asheville’s Ahleuchatistas can be traced to 2002, when the group’s foundational trio — guitarist Shane Perlowin, bassist Derek Poteat and drummer Sean Dail — began a collaboration that would result in four albums of kinetic instrumental rock full of frenzied runs and abrupt shifts. The many who called it math-rock weren’t off-base, though the allusion to bebop innovator Charlie Parker’s “Ah-Leu-Cha” in the band’s moniker is telling; the swinging runs of notes, nervy interplay, and stop-time tension-builders owe more to bop than post-hardcore.
The trio was also a razor-sharp and precise presence, bursting with punk energy so propulsive that the music often seemed bound to tumble over itself. It didn’t, but the trio didn’t hold as tightly. Dail left the band in 2008. Illinois drummer Ryan Oslance joined soon after replying to a Myspace bulletin. He and Perlowin clicked instantly.
“Our first phone conversation lasted for maybe three or four hours,” Perlowin remembers. They “immediately” began playing together on the side, as well as in Ahleuchatistas. When Poteat quit in late 2009, Perlowin and Oslance decided to continue on without a third. So 2010 marked a logistical and stylistic renaissance for the band.
“I wasn’t really dying to hold onto this thing, when the group started to evolve in terms of the members of the band. It really felt absolutely appropriate to continue with something that was always evolving anyway that there were no rules for.”
They kept the name, but the approach was a significant departure — more spacious and dynamic, though much less frenetic on the whole. “If you listen to the earlier records, it’s not the dominant direction, but there are tracks that have more space and that are ambient and that are more sonically focused than with the nimble, jump-cut arrangements,” Perlowin says. As a duo, Ahleuchatistas’ work began to explore textures more concertedly; their improvisations together became searches for what Perlowin describes as sustained tension.
“It doesn’t really interest me to play music that I wrote when I was 24 or 25 years old, when I’m constantly writing new music and moving in new directions,” Perlowin, now 33, says.
Despite the transition, Ahleuchatistas have kept a steady pace. The band’s sixth album, Location Location, released in March, follows only two years behind Of The Body Prone, the band’s last album as a trio, but feels much removed. As Perlowin suggests, it’s not a complete departure, but it’s a noticeable — and telling — one.
“Perlowin and Oslance have a unique psychic interplay,” the band’s bio suggests. The two had begun collaborating without Poteat more than a year before the bassist’s departure, developing and recording pieces that might not have made sense in the trio context. Location Location gathers pieces recorded between September, 2008, and March, 2010.
“Israel,” the album’s penultimate track, is the first product of Perlowin and Oslance’s partnership. It was recorded less than a week after Oslance, 27, moved to Asheville and joined Ahleuchatistas. The six-and-a-half minute exercise floats cinematic post-rock guitar — layers of gently-hung chords and ringing, tremolo-picked notes — over a playfully busy jazz rhythm. Already, the duo was exploring texture and layering beyond what Ahleuchatistas accomplished as a trio.
And the rest of the album continues to stretch the boundaries of Ahleuchatistas’ sound. “No Sleep” lays expansive, anxious drones while “Waterboarding” cuts an angular set of doom-surf. “Mistaken Identity” evokes the percussive guitars and polyrhythmic drumming of Afro-beat and “A Little Effort Goes A Long Way” evokes the ringing percussion of Indonesian Gamelan.
“In a sense, it’s like an archival recording,” Perlowin says. “But I think it works as a conceptual whole. It was almost like this album revealed itself. We had all these recordings and I started going through it, and it was like, ‘Holy shit. We have a full-length album here that we should put out.’”
The album doesn’t arrive entirely unexpectedly, though. “I initially wondered if people would just reject what was happening,” Perlowin says. But 2010 offered ample opportunity to find out, with the band appearing at Tennessee’s Big Ears Music Festival and The Wire’s Adventures in Modern Music Festival in Chicago, in addition to two European tours. “It really seemed to be more warmly embraced than before.”
After its second European tour — a three-week stint in December — the band took a break. Oslance, a “pretty intense backpacker” by Perlowin’s description, stayed behind for about six months. “I just pretty much left him there,” Perlowin says. In his counterpart’s absence, Perlowin finished Location Location and released it through his own label, Open Letter Records (which also recently released the excellent The Violence, The Violence from Doom Ribbons, Perlowin’s more psychedelic side-project with multi-instrumentalist James Owen). He’s also finishing the mixing process for Ahleuchatistas’ still-untitled seventh album, which was recorded in June.
Without completely abandoning the energy that marked Ahleuchatistas’ earlier work — Perlowin says the duo is balancing the pure-sound meditation and kinetic momentum about equally — the new direction seems to have reinvigorated its players as much as its listeners. “It feels more intense,” he says. “It’s more emotionally involving for me to play, and I think for people to listen to. We’re just more wrapped up in it.”