Text and Interview: Andy Fenwick
Images Courtesy of Terrorbird and Hidden Rituals
“Always,” the second LP by Austin’s Hidden Ritual, out on Monofonus Press, deserves attention for pulling the nifty trick of precision. Amidst their predilection for ice-cold keyboards, mambo, distortion-free guitar, and vibrato-rich vocals, nothing is wasted, not even oddly tuned guitar solos. It’s a sound as sinisterly monastic as their name, reverential but subdued, like someone dancing alone at 3 am in the low lamplight of a seedy, roadside motel. Add maracas and you’d have something close to Young Marble Giants (hear Hidden Ritual’s “Roach”); go electronic, and maybe Basic Channel; add a little surf, and you’d something like Dirty Beaches, or the quieter work of early Gallon Drunk.
On “Always,” only “Rat” truly goes all out with a speedy tempo, its guitar leads and keyboard figures fighting for space. Ice-cold organ accents grace “Limo” and, on “Problem,” Hidden Ritual adds a delicious, outdoor tone, as if drums and bass were recorded at a disconnect, in the distance, at the mouth of a desert cave. On album showpiece “Roach,” a Casio keyboard fed through a guitar pedal mimics a creepy horn. Meanwhile, the whole song approaches samba, swinging like a beach-set nightmare as chiming guitar buoys sad singing. The album comes back to Earth with instrumental track “Quarry,” which maybe places the spooky lounge of Martin Denny in a real Texas quarry.
Ravelin talked to Hidden Ritual’s Jaime Zuverza about the new album:
Monofonus Press seems pretty interesting – how’d you get involved?
Yeah, they are interesting. They put out some good stuff and support some fine people. We’re very glad to know them. I know Cory (Monofonus) from his excellent band Spray Paint. We had started talking about putting a book of my music-related art/designs (gig flyers, record cover art, etc.) out on Monofonus (which turned into a yearly calendar) at the same time Hidden Ritual had just finished our first recording, Zebra Bottle, and the ball just started rolling.
To me, your new record seems subdued, but more tense, than your previous music. If I’m not wrong, was that a conscious decision? Did you fight against breaking out loud(er)?
Yes, it was a conscious decision to play the songs that way. At home when listening to music we like to chill and be tense at the same time. (Not unlike the feeling you get when watching “Unsolved Mysteries” while slouching in a comfy sofa occasionally looking around nervously at the dark corners of the room while relishing in a frightful story.) But when we go out to see a show, the bar is full of contagious energy and we’re generally in the mood to see/hear/feel/play something with more movement. We didn’t fight against breaking out louder when making this record, cuz we’ve never been a loud band, but we did fight against playing faster like we do live.
I find your rhythms interesting – you swing, the way Young Marble Giants did, or Dirty Beaches sometimes does –especially on songs like “Roach”. When you write, do songs begin that way, or melody?
Our songs come about in every normal band way imaginable … sometimes it’s through improvisation, sometimes it’s a group effort and sometimes it’s not. But I would say our music is intentionally written to keep rhythm up front. The bass guitar is my favorite instrument. We also like to keep things a little dancy. Our favorite part of a live show is when the audience starts dancing… or starts throwing cash money at us. Which is kind of our trademark at our shows nowadays. If you see us play live feel free to join the movement. It’s fun!
What’s that odd, Moog-Farfisa sounding thing that starts about one minute into “Roach” and gets more prominent later?
We use a Casio keyboard from the 80s that’s going through guitar pedals. We have used Farfisa on our recordings before, and sooner or later we’ll use a Moog as well (once we have some time to figure out how to use it). All keyboards are beautiful.