Milwaukee and San Diego are, respectively, not that far and pretty damned far from Chicago. Yet you wouldn't know that from the sound of the latest records by Pele and Tristeza. Both bands bank on the Windy City's current calling card--in short, the noodly, guitar-based instrumental music a friend calls "snorecore"--as though it were going down in their own backyards. Each succeeds in its way, but, as in any correspondence course, the fruits of labor are ripe with disappointment.
The Nudes, the fourth album by Milwaukee soccer fans Pele, is the better of the two, but it's ultimately more frustrating because of it. The three men in the band--guitarist Chris Rosenau, who also plays in The Promise Ring side project Vermont; bassist Matt Tennessen, who wastes his spare time in emo-pop unit Paris, Texas; and drummer Jon Mueller, who I guess is really into Pele--are excellent players, all blessed with nimble fingers and the ability to elucidate complex harmonic and rhythmic ideas painlessly. They used these gifts to good effect on People Living With Animals. Animals Kill People, a gorgeous 1999 collection of remixes that served as a companion to 1997's Teaching the History of Teaching Geography. But on The Nudes, they're content to ape The Sea and Cake's soul-flirting pop-jazz and Tortoise's shape-shifting everything-else as though they were fishing for Chamber of Commerce compliments. Truly, nothing here establishes a singular voice; the best it gets is opener "Nude Beach. Pin Hole Camera," which neatly folds marimba into the guitar-bass-drums matrix--but it only sticks out because it comes first. Rosenau in particular is a distinctive talent on guitar, nearly matching the best Chicago players' knack for stretching one arpeggio to inhuman lengths. Too bad his record only functions as a dexterous reminder of those other players.
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Conflicted San Diego space rockers Tristeza's new Dream Signals in Full Circles, their first record for Insound.com house label Tigerstyle, doesn't even do that all that well. The problem here is not turning those arpeggios into something new, but what to do with them at all: "City of the Future" spins its wheels for six minutes without moving an inch; "Chiaroscuro" does it for six and a half. I suppose the idea here is to make a head-nodding cosmos from Chicago's raw materials, but this stuff is just boring, completely unsettling the careful balance of repetition and introduction that great groove-based music establishes. A few times, as on the relatively dynamic "Aurora Borealis," the point is made, drawing dark-side bliss from motorik chug, something the band did quite well on Spine and Sensory, its debut full-length from last year. I saw them play that record live once at three in the morning in a warehouse in Columbus, Ohio; everyone watching fell into a standing trance, lulled into interstellar oblivion by the gauzy keyboards and human-heartbeat pacing. Watching Dream Signals, unfortunately, I think I'd just fall asleep.