Label: Subsound Records
Release date: 22 November 2019
Every once in a while, a new act releases music with little other branding involved and it’s hard to know what to think about them or if it would be worth it to listen to them.
A lack of descriptions or reviews or even a discography makes a person unsure what they are getting into, and sometimes a little scared to make that plunge. That is why a strong name and–often, more importantly–a captivating album cover is key to bringing in the fans that a new band so badly desires. After all, that was what got people listening to vinyls in the first place, when searching the racks for the album with the coolest picture… or the one with the uncensored nipples. In the case of PLEIADEES, who seem to not mind whether they are listed in all caps or not, both their ambiguous name and haunting album art work in their favor. Pleiades (not the band) could refer to the seven sister nymphs of Greek mythology, a highly visible star cluster, a group of Antarctic volcanoes, or a group of mountains in Switzerland. Combined with the foggy imagery of eight (possibly more) veiled women in flowing dresses, smiling and dancing in an indeterminable environment, the album seems to take all of the elements of the aged and unknown to send a message of something spiritual and haunting.
Further digging for the curious listener reveals a few things more. The group is Italian, and consider themselves “dark jazz ritualists”. Their backgrounds are fairly impressive with guitarist Xabier Iriondo playing in alternative rock bands Afterhours and Buñuel, bassist Massimo Pupillo gaining his fame while playing in instrumental jazz punk band Zu, and percussionist Cristiano Calcagnile having a long-standing solo career. Together, the three decided to make something new, quoted as wanting to create “a sound that could evoke the ancestral forces of music, melody, and rhythm… to raise the spirit and lead it to the presence of the divine”. Using a methodically crafted combination of rock, jazz, and improvisation, the trio seeks to transcend genres and play “world music for these disjointed times we’re all in”. With their three-track EP, their first collaboration together, PLEIADEES does exactly that.
The EP begins with the previously teased How to step out of solidity and vaporize yourself, whose 19-minute length (nearly twice as long as either of the other two tracks on the EP) is certainly enough to make the less bold shy away. However, if one takes a deep breath and jumps in, they will be greeted with an eerie melody and a pleasant hum of feedback, more accessible than noise legends Sunn O))) and far more complex in its execution. Howling winds, the tinkling of chimes, dusty footsteps, squealing, plinking, moaning, and other ominous sounds not quite able to be perceived float in and out as they please, like the soundtrack to a horror movie played with no visual context to guide the listener along. A chanting circle enters and leaves, clapping aided by the sound of trumpets and a synth modulated to sound like an old music box. Muffled guitars and drums play the same four notes from under the metaphorical floorboards, a ballet and a brass band fighting to be heard over the monotony while ghostly onlookers rattle and shake the participants. The music box plays alone in a room while the fight continues, feedback from guitars sounding suspiciously close to human speech that one just can’t make out. Sudden voices in the chanting circle take over again as all the previous players come together into one messy and terrifying jumble, a deeply sad and pleading message hidden in the noise. And just like that, 19 minutes have gone by, and you somehow know less than when you started.
Track two is titled They offer platitudes, you will learn to breathe underwater. For the less informed, a platitude is a cliche saying, meant to guide people’s morals and make others feel better about their failures, but in the end make others feel more defeated. PLEIADEES seems to offer an example of a platitude in the title itself, suggesting that the difficult times one lives in can be passed by adapting (learning to breathe underwater), but such evolution is impossible in one’s lifetime, therefore making the well-meaning positivity nothing but empty words. PLEIADEES has aptly named this track, which begins with singing children who slowly morph into singing adults, and then a muffled recording, and then a single person, and then another group of adults, all singing the same song with their own rhythms and instruments, but with seemingly no definitive resolution. Without even noticing, the singing stops and is replaced with guitars plucked off-rhythm, with no melody as a guide, dying off into a whistle that evokes the image of Steamboat Willy, carelessly living life with an understanding that whatever happens, happens. About halfway through, the drums and guitars enter proper through to the end, a slow and ringing procession that moves like the ripples on a lake, something dark and malicious rising from below the surface should one actually care to turn around and look.
The third and final track on the EP, A diamond hidden in the mouth of a dragon, is the most traditional of the three in that it has more of a focus on the guitar, even the vibrations from its strings clearly present in the track’s development. However, the earthy and non-commercialized sounds of chimes, a drum surely stretched with animal skin, and a carefully plucked taisho koto bring an element of otherworldly peace that does not clash but rather intersects with the modern, more Western music. The singing and humming of a woman–someone’s grandmother perhaps, maybe a shaman, maybe a priestess, perhaps even just an elderly woman sweeping her porch–takes precedence in the latter half of the track, the other instruments first attempting to harmonize and then respectfully giving her her space. After a minute, the skin drum nervously begins up again, providing a quiet beat for the songstress until she excuses herself, the track ending with a thoughtful solo from a set of nose flutes, the taisho koto adding their part along with the drum, and ending on a comfortable note, leaving the listener not in silence but in the absence of sound.
Elegantly crafted, respectful yet questioning, PLEIADEES does not pretend to know more than any of us, yet somehow we are left thinking that they must, their brand of music telling a story in a language that hasn’t yet been invented. Like a cat and dog sharing water from the same bowl, a combination of instruments one wouldn’t expect to work together harmonize and create new and vibrant sounds, painting a colorful picture with shades of grey. Is it music to jam out to? Absolutely not. Is it music to have on in the background? Again, not a wise choice. With this EP, PLEIADEES invites the listener to an auditory performance in three acts, a story whose chapters are significant in their own ways, but necessary together to see the whole picture. Like turning off your phone in the theater, this EP requires your full attention, start to finish. If you have a favorite version of an opera, or enjoy going to an art museum to appreciate the strokes of the paintbrush up close, this is a definite addition to your collection. If you would rather just watch the movie or ditch the museum altogether, perhaps seek out a different band. The good news is that, with their extensive catalogues prior to this splendid endeavor, the members of PLEIADEES have already got you covered.
- Cristiano Calcagnile – Drums, percussion, vibraphone, nose flutes, “ancient piano” of the Conservatory “Benedetto Marcello” in Venice
- Massimo Pupillo – Electric bass
- Xabier Iriondo – Electric guitar, taisho koto
- How to step out of solidity and vaporize yourself
- They offer platitudes, you will learn to breathe underwater
- A diamond hidden in the mouth of a dragon