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(Sub Pop)

Although I sort of missed the hoopla on the band Calexico (I recently caught up with it and have expanded my catalog to include several of their titles), I made sure that I didn't miss the boat on Migala. After hearing several positive reviews of the group, comparing them to everyone from Calexico to Leonard Cohen singing over Ennio Morricone-esque spaghetti western backdrops, I just had to go out and see what all the fuss was about.

Sure enough, this group from Spain (this is actually their third full-length album, the other two having been released on a small, independent Spanish label) is damn good. Arde does draw some of the comparisons that I mentioned in the first paragraph, but they go in other directions as well. The 45-minute album is a nice little journey through a space that you normally might not find yourself. At times it sounds downright cinematic, while at other times it aches like a tragic ballad that was written just for you. Part instrumental, and part vocals sung in English and Spanish (although the lyrics to the songs are printed in each on the liner notes), it's another excellent band for Sub Pop to have signed and released (after a couple year, post-grunge drought, they seem to making a steady comeback).

The disc starts off with two instrumental tracks, and although they have some of the same components, draw up entirely different moods. "Primera Parada" is a bit more playful with fluttering cymbals, twanging guitars and hopalong percussion, while "El Caballo Del Malo" is a bit more cavalier in response, with shimmering guitars and some thick sounding accordian (I kid you not). If those two tracks provided a nice burst of energy, though, the next two tracks drop off into near despair. "Fortune's Show Of Our Last" adds a piano to the mix and marks the first appearance of vocalist Abel Hernandez's rich baritone vocals. The song builds to a lush peak before drifting off into a delightful, almost sound collage with almost a minute left.

The group adds yet another element to their sound on "Our Times Of Disaster," and although the sound samples feel a bit out of place upon first listen, they actually work quite well within the drum machine driven, minimal instrumentation on the track (sort of ala Arab Strap). Hernandez's vocals again take the forefront, though, and their smooth croon keeps everything on course somehow. The rest of the album varies just as nicely, whether it is the darker sounding "La Noche" or the upbeat instrumental of "Cuatro Estaciones."

The album-titled closer of "Arde" pulls almost all of the groups sounds (minus excellent vocals obviously) into a long instrumental that takes awhile to build, but offers interesting things along the way, as well as a nice payoff ending. With spoken word samples, lush instrumentation, and a nice rise and fall, it puts a cap on the solid third album for the group. Hopefully, the group continues on and their albums keep finding release in the US (or some of their older discs get re-released). If you like the above mentioned bands, you're definitely not going to go wrong.

Rating: 8