Music Review: Jorge Arana Trio's 'Mammoth'

Sep 27, 2016

Jorge Arana Trio
Mammoth (Haymaker Records)

The Jorge Arana Trio, an instrumental, avant-garde art-rock band, seems to have composed the soundtrack to a postmodern silent film. Back in the Pre-Code Hollywood days of pantomimed emotion, when whole concepts were conveyed by a smirk outlined in black lipstick, the lack of human voices spurred creativity and gave rise to dramatic, spooky storytelling. That’s what the trio does on Mammoth, its second full-length release on Haymaker Records.

The sound is so encompassing it’s hard to believe the band consists of only Jorge Arana, Josh Enyart, and Jason Nash, who have been playing together since 2011 and have just embarked on tour.

With their instrumental conversations, Arana (guitar and keys), Enyart (drums) and Nash (bass) negate the need for vocals. Over the course of Mammoth’s nine tracks, their range of genres makes every song seem like a scene unto itself, with musical lines playing out like characters in miniature vaudevilles. I listened to the same song on accident for half an hour, finding new hidden melodies as it kept unfolding.

Opening up with a tribute to ‘80s Atari music, “Overworld Map” features reverberating minor chord synths over a bass line that indicates danger with mounting tempo. It reminds me of arriving at a “dark” level in a video game, waiting for bats to arrive. The short track's intensity never wavers as the lead guitar swoops to narrate the plight of our cloaked hero. Similar themes occur in “Bloodletting for Kids” and “Booth,” causing some serious nostalgia.

A loping guitar and stick against metal canter in on “Speak, Beast,” which feels like a spaghetti western but quickly acquires elements of space rock as the bass takes the lead over the keyboard fade-out. The “beast” arrives on Arana's guitar, aggressive and in control; it slips farther into distortion before the Space Age synths arrive again, signaling that all is clear.

“All My Friends Are Brown” unfolds like a Tarantino drama, only with more original characters. Each vignette opens with anticipation, the solos taking turns showcasing modern alternative rock, then ‘60s Mod beats, then carnival barkery as they tumble together before receding back to a beat.

As they build back up into a rock n' roll climax that retains the purity of their original solos, I inevitably feel my shoulder muscles begin to tense – the song makes me confident I can dance-fight, preferably in a sweet zoot suit, wielding a sword.

Mashing together space rock, game-like themes, and gritty rock and roll, the Jorge Arana Trio has brought an auteuristic creativity to a niche in instrumental music they have carved out on their own.

Monique Gabrielle Salazar is a Kansas City freelance writer, artist and producer. She can be reached at mgswrites@gmail.com.