Spend enough time in and around music and you'll find bands that almost immediately impress you. Maybe it's their drive to succeed, or their live shows, or maybe they just do what they do better than anyone else doing it. Through writing The Best of The Week, I get to discover bands by the sheer nature of their booking a show. I try to see at least one new band a week, but last year I found myself catching Galveston's El Lago as much as I possibly could.
I was so impressed with their tone, passion, and mesmerizing live show that I introduced Austin Sepulvado of Buxton, Ancient Cat Society, and Dollie Barnes to El Lago. Now, a year later, Sepulvado has produced the band's debut release, Colors, and the end result is just as beautiful and captivating as when the four-piece performs live. Engineered by Steve Christensen, Colors could easily be one of the prettiest albums out there right now, intertwining shoegaze melodies and psych undertones. It's almost like the Cocteau Twins and Ride decided to cover the works of Spiritualized without directly lifting anything from the three.
The album opens with the lush guitar tones of "Tentative Threads," and it's hard not to notice how El Lago approaches a song. The meandering guitars create a sultry tone, magnified by singer Lauren Eddy's emotionally driven vocals. At times her voice transcends the music in a way that almost creates this angelic space above the rest of the band. On the shoegaze-heavy "Into the Clearing," which causes your ears to focus on the honey-dripped guitars combining with the jazz-inspired drumming and chunky bass lines. There's a beautiful nuance in the way El Lago creates these tremolo-drenched tones underneath Eddy's vocals, like ghosts dancing together in the early-morning hours. More cues from shoegaze and indie-rock appear on the hard-to-forget "Tell Me How It Ends," here performed about a half step faster than when the song was originally released as a single. The drums feel like thunder echoing an oncoming while the melody coming from both guitars is hard not to love. The catchy pace and Eddy's soothing vocals create an unexpected intensity, making this the first of many standouts on the record.
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Of course, you could say the same of "Room to Room," yet another standalone track. The almost Spanish-style guitar comes out of left field to create a chaotic intensity that you wouldn't normally hear from a band in this genre. The emotional range in the song feels like love and hate colliding in a darkened hallway only to kiss and make up. The bridge is truly mesmerizing, adding these stabs of guitar that slip off into their own universe. The surprises continue on the title track, where El Lago approaches the world of My Bloody Valentine without really copying them either. The wall of guitar tones pounding in the background while the lead and the bass almost cut through it all is like nothing else. The mixture of pretty and harsh textures creates a charming and inventive sound, but one that could almost crush other bands underneath its weight. Changing direction a bit and going to their softer side on the graceful, catchy "Underneath," El Lago reminds listeners that while they can be intense, their strengths lie in how appealing they can make a slower song sound.
On "Devotion," the band changes speeds yet again, bringing in a '70s rock sound like you're staring out of the back of a Mustang convertible along the Pacific Coast Highway. The gait of the song has that '70s feel, but the pedal-heavy guitars bring you back into a more modern era. Meanwhile, the bass and the drums may well remind you of something from the past without being able to place your finger on what it is. Not to sound like a broken record, but the band closes out the album with yet another standout on "Dinner Guests," quicker and snappier than any of the prior songs. The catchy lead atop the pulsating, fuzz-infused rhythm guitar is truly magnetizing. The song teases your ears until a little over the halfway mark, where the guitars grow so immense it sounds like the amplifiers will explode. And just when you think it's all over, the songs heads to a whole different space where the band is performing an angelic chorus of melody and distortion. The end result is something you just have to hear for yourself to truly understand, while knowing that El Lago creates chaos and beauty at the same time.
Colors is an appropriate title for an album that can stir such emotion, such life, and such turmoil all at once. It's also one of the prettiest and most intense records of this year, and a debut that places the Galveston group far ahead of most other creators of shoegaze indie-rock, certainly any here in Houston. Grab your own copy from the band at their 21 and up album-release party at Rockefellers this Saturday, November 4, with special guests Vodi and Astragal. Doors at 7 p.m.; $10 cover.