what: Record release show for Heads Full of Poison
where: The Grey Eagle
when: Friday, Oct. 5 (9 p.m. $7. thegreyeagle.com)
When Asheville’s Ahleuchatistas released Location Location in 2011 there was an easy explanation as to why it sounded different from the rest of their catalog. The year before, the boundary-obliterating instrumental outfit had diminished from a trio to a duo, drummer Ryan Oslance and guitarist Shane Perlowin soldiering on without bassist Derek Poteat. Whatever new techniques emerged could easily be attributed to the new configuration.
This year, the group offers Heads Full of Poison, their seventh full-length and second as a duo, and it sounds as different from Location Location as that record does from the rest of Ahleuchatistas’ output. Location Location is jarring and atmospheric, experimenting with abrasive tones and entrancing dissonance alongside skittering, free jazz-inspired rhythms that are more often textural than propulsive. Heads is kinetic and explosive, breakneck and angular guitar melodies fusing with intricate drum patterns to create an all-consuming force. Riveting from end to end, the album proves that this band doesn’t need a lineup change to justify changing course.
“I don’t think that we’re really bound by anyone’s expectations of what they’re going to hear,” Perlowin says. “This record demonstrates that, and I think that’s a really good thing. Really, there were no guidelines when the band formed. We’ve gone through four lineups, one of which recorded four albums, and now this is the second album in this particular format.”
Heads is a more cohesive effort than Location Location, which makes sense given the different circumstances that led to their creation. Location Location was recorded during a haphazard collection of sessions during Oslance and Perlowin's early days as a duo, none of which were intended to be compiled on an album. The oldest material on Heads has been in the band’s repertoire for about two years, tested and perfected on the road before it was captured. The newer songs, most of which comprise the back half of the double LP, were debuted on the duo’s two-month European tour last fall. Both albums contain improvisatory elements, but with Heads, the constructs for those experiments were far more concrete.
“That’s from experimenting and working things out and finding textures and approaches that work for us, that we feel are fresh and convey what we want to convey,” Perlowin says,. “A lot of our show is kind of a mixture, and it has been really since we’ve been touring as a duo. This is just kind of the first release that showcases primarily the more compositional element, even though there is a lot of improvisation.”
Ahleuchatistas benefited from a lucky break when it came time to record. Friends of theirs had just gutted a house in West Asheville for renovations and allowed the players to set up shop in the vacant space. Adding to their windfall, Static Age Records was in the process of relocating its recording studio and gave the outfit its gear as a means of storing it during the transition. The house’s rich acoustics and the relaxed environment were both key contributors to the album’s spacious and absorbing sound.
“It was a very comfortable setting,” Oslance says. “We just had an empty house to ourselves with just a phenomenal studio setup that we didn’t own, and we got to just record ourselves into the wee hours of the night and work all-day long with nobody else around. So I think having that freedom and comfort, we’re not going to sound as rushed or hurried.”
The result of Ahleuchatistas’ relaxed studio session might well be their best record to date, a barrage of styles and moods that nevertheless gels into an immersive whole. For instance, the epic, 15-minute title track starts out with a thrilling back-and-forth between sections of chugging, African-inspired rhythm and concussive psych-rock attacks. After an ethereal bridge that squares an undercurrent of nervy noise against breezy Oriental melodies, the song erupts into a pummeling finale where surf riff mutations emerge from ominous walls of sludgy distortion. It would surely be incredible to see the duo pull it off live, but that opportunity may already be gone.
“We’re looking to be playing pretty much all new material,” Perlowin laughs, looking forward to the outfit's fall tour dates. “Not all new material, but we’re moving into new territory for our upcoming gigs. Basically, that material that we captured here on this album is kind of the stuff we’ve been touring for two years, so we’re moving forward. I’m really happy with how we’ve captured it, but we’ve gotten to document something that a lot of people got to see live. Now we’re moving forward with writing and experimenting and playing.”
Jordan Lawrence is music editor at Shuffle Magazine and a contributing writer at The Independent.