Happy Garlic, Mexico ****
By Juan Manuel Torreblanca
When I was in college, studying language and literature, I often hated teachers who turned courses that were supposed to be about an author and his work into endless anecdotes about their own encounters with the author. Nevertheless, I am quite tempted to begin this review in just that fashion, as I believe it might summon a useful sort of atmosphere. So please bear with me and let's travel 3 or 4 years back in time to Guadalajara, my first visit there. I will never forget a long summer party night ending up at this beautiful house (not Victorian, though), whose owner I didn't really know. And there, a few minutes after my arrival, the owner's friends cajoled him, a seemingly shy Andy (with his thick, square eyeglasses), into getting his acoustic guitar and singing a few songs. I could’ve never expected what happened then: a bittersweet, perfect, whisper-like voice poured over everyone like a thin layer of bright white snow. We all froze in delighted awe.
I vaguely kept in touch with Andy and I later knew about the creation of Antoine Reverb, and even heard a couple demos (which included, yes, lots of reverb). Some time passed and I heard of them finishing a record. Recently I received an invitation to see them live at a hip little venue (seminal to Mexico City’s scene). I went there, survived the horrid sound system, became an instant fan, and got their album too!
So, before I get to the music on Goodbye Victorian Houses, I must say that seeing this kid again, onstage, joined by his 4 band-mates, was a pretty different experience compared to that first time around his garden-table. Allow me to try describing the gig briefly: it was still surprising. Andy led with that confident, natural, poignant voice; but now it was supported and empowered elegantly by the superb harmonies of the band, the warmth of all the strings plucked and strummed, the jazzy punch of some peculiar drumming and the heavenly spacey analog keyboards. He didn’t seem that shy up there, but it’s not like they were dancing nor doing the interactive-show-thing either. The word that could describe the whole band best is, probably, ‘cool’. They’re not trying to be indie as in becoming the umpteenth version of Interpol or The Strokes (thank god!); in fact they look more like an avant garde/shoegaze/folk version of the Scooby Doo crowd, with all due respect. I felt as if a portal had opened between this joint in downtown D.F. and some indie/underground club on Queen St., Toronto, or maybe Sweden. So, yeah, A.R. sounds and looks really good. Even their wooden keyboard stands (reminiscent of art nouveau furniture) stand out. There’s a mysterious depth to them that makes their music very cinematographic. There’s also this intimate immediacy, this low-fi, subtly-punk rawness that makes them very fresh and real. Amazingly, all of this translated from their live performance (which came first to me) to their recording in a rather fantastic way.
Goodbye Victorian Houses takes you somewhere. Stories are being told there; however, something tells me they might not want anyone or everyone to get all the detail right away. You get a glimpse first, and it’s like overhearing a secret, like eavesdropping unintentionally, like arriving in the middle of a conversation: you don’t understand everything, you may not know the full story, but you can still get the feeling of it… and it’s a powerful feeling! And if you come back, and when you do it over and over again, you’ll realize that you probably won’t ever understand it all, but I bet that –before you can tell– their music will have become cherished company.
Damn! I feel I’ve written way more than I should already and I haven’t said all I’d like to. What does the record sound like? for example. Well, to paint a quick picture, I might have to resort to another tool that I usually hate: comparison. Think of Broken Social Scene inviting the guys from Belle and Sebastian to work on an old bunch of songs that Billy Corgan wrote with Brian Wilson… and then keep in mind that Antoine Reverb sounds exactly like none of the above. They sound like kids of the age of global inspiration. A fine example of Guadalajara’s interesting scene. They made a melodically mature, ironic & shimmery album that sometimes offers little hypnotic minimantras (“Lucy” and her “supermarket music” or the intriguing chanting of “we’ll turn into something that makes sense to you and I, something that our mouths won’t be afraid to name” in “Jenny Drives an Automatic”) while it sometimes borders the epic explosive shores of Arcade Fire. Chimes and rattles abound, yes, extremely enjoyable banjos, mandolins & ukuleles too (not to mention the brilliance of the cello, the trombone, the trumpet and the clarinet amongst other special colors used here) but you won’t find no bells and whistles. There’s just enough here to build their unique amber-blue atmosphere, their mix of the sublime and the erratic.
I held myself back before, but now that I’m reaching the end of my review, I must say one last thing about the lyrics (no, I won’t go into the endless question of why won’t you write in Spanish if you’re a Mexican band?) but I will say I wish the lyrics were a bit more intelligible to my ears, ‘cause that’s one of the main paths to my heart. But, still, Goodbye Victorian Houses did take me somewhere, it sorta made me revisit a fictitious memory of speeding on my old bicycle through an autumn-red forest road at sunset (in love).