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Los Halos - Leaving VA.

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Artist: Los Halos

Album: Leaving VA.

Label: Loveless

Review date: Oct. 2, 2003

Leaving VA. is the third official release by Downingtown, Pennsylvania’s Los Halos, a peculiarly plural musical vehicle for the singular, mysterious Mr. Samezvous and his occasional band of collaborators. The record’s sleeve boasts an adage by Issa – “o snail, climb mount fuji. but slowly, slowly” – and for those familiar with the band’s previous efforts, a self-titled debut and last year’s For Ramona, this fragile espousal of patience will probably seem appropriate. The earliest Los Halos songs were characterized by slow melodic build-ups – dense, Spacemen 3-style guitar spirals that felt somehow less muscular and bombastic than their natural touchstones. For Ramona was sparser, more acoustic, but it similarly took its time setting the mood on its own terms, mixing hazy guitar lines and earnest existentialism in a dream-rock ether. With Leaving VA., Samezvous further tightens his approach, shedding some unnecessary bulk as he rounds another switchback in the climb up mythic Fuji.

The record opens with a purposeful combination of its constituent elements, as a rudimentary bass line and synth arpeggio gently become bundled up with galloping percussion and layered guitar. Samezvous tends to condense his effected moods, both lyrically and instrumentally, into punchy, pop koans that feel both direct and elliptical (“At the point of letting go / Turn around come back again”). Even as the mix threatens to crescendo into a thunderous roar, there’s a gentle quality to the chiming notes and feathery drumming that’s never really abandoned. This holds true even on the most straightforwardly rocking, radio-friendly cuts – songs like “Blue Star” and “Reasons to Smile”. Lockgroove’s Martin Rex lends some percussion to Leaving VA., but Los Halos tempers its shoegazer impulse with Velvets-inspired structure more so than Rex’s project, filling the canvases with noisy color while never permitting scribbles outside the lines.

“Lo Siento” is the only song on Leaving VA. not penned by Samezvous, but instead by longtime contributor X Preston. With its autumnal, reverberating guitar line and softly brushed skins, it could probably slip onto a repressing of I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One without clamor. Depending on whether one is inclined to read that as an homage or a rip-off, the song’s a contender for both the strongest and weakest on the record. In other places, Los Halos drops its gentle guitar whirlwind with mixed results. “Frenesi” is a kind of rolling, introspective shanty of a song, pleasant but lacking the texture to justify its incessant repetition. “The Back Home” is similarly stripped-down, at least at first, but it tosses amusing left hooks (“Take your dick and draw a line in the sand”) before building into a melodic maelstrom of wheezing, Dylan-harmonica and joyful, back-of-the-garage guitar. It seems almost anticlimactic to conclude the record with a dour, shimmering piano-and-drum-machine ballad called, well, “Leaving VA.” Samezvous pads his echo-chamber, new-wave vocals with a rich bass-end, and though the ballad is probably the record’s biggest flop, like the other material it’s still pretty fresh and adventurous stuff.

So, just like that, Samezvous’ snail rounds the switchback and keeps plugging along. And while the mood is no sunnier than before, the view only continues to improve.

By Nathan Hogan

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