CD, Confusibombus, 2009
Tonal Y Nagual is a name I’ve been aware of for a few years now, from their involvement with the UMB Kollektif, which includes ex-Thorofon members amongst others, but so far I hadn’t made the effort to listen to their music. Approaching curiously with anticipations of semi-humorous, unconventional neo-folk, I found more than I expected on the very unusual and imaginative album, “La Sierra Mecánica”.
The short intro track is actually an outro for the previous Tonal Y Nagual album, “The Hidden Oasis”, a brief folk piece with surprising lyrics on the subject of how white men apparently have no rhythm. This quickly merges perfectly into the spooky electropop of “Whiteman Got No Riddim”, in which light-hearted racial stereotypes are further enjoyed with a strong bluesy feel and funky bass guitar, even if not managing to convince the listener the man singing might not himself be white! “Anybody” then returns to the neo-folk stylings and removes any fears that this might be a throw away comedy album, a beautifully evocative tune, although possibly let down by the amateurish performance.
This paradox between the charm of the lo-fi delivery and the conventions of what is technically acceptable or desirable in modern music largely permeates “La Sierra Mecánica”. Generally, I feel the tunes, lyrics and interesting arrangements win over concerns about poor singing and occasionally clumsy guitar work; the humour, wit and creativity evident throughout make this album something special.
“Honey” features a curious contrast between silly lyrics and a quirky dance beat on the one hand and a subtly melancholic melody, and then “Mister Cranky Tree” is dominated by harsh computerised beats thrashing about the place, over minimal guitar and folkish singing about there being a monster in the universe. “Lux Cypher” is one of the most effective tracks, marrying a fuzzy folk song about being a lonely feather to a funky electro house rhythm, followed by borderline cheesey gothic lament “Grave”, where UMB associate Geneviève Pasquier repeats lines about herself, but again Tonal Y Nagual get away with it.
The second half of the album features more surprises and more tracks which sometimes take some thought to decide whether you like them or not, from the defiant statements of the wonky “Get Out Of Our Way” to the almost glam rock riffs of “Dirty Maiden”. “Tribe Of The Night” is an exciting piece of synthpunk anger, a style which would have been well followed on “Cog In The Machine”, one of the least interesting tracks on the album and its only concession to the “industrial” dance floor. “Der Bergkönig” is a mess and not even funny, but “The Loneliest Place” is a lovely piece of folky synthpop, which would appeal well to fans of Allerseelen or Dernière Volonté. “The Real Outro” would have been an ideal finish to such an intriguing album, but as we have to have remixes on almost every industrial or electronica album these days, we don’t do badly with the unusual pairing of electropop Die Perlen and industrial techno Zero Degree reworking two tracks not already featured on the main album.
— Nathan Clemence