“What section of the record store do you belong in?” I demanded of Asheville’s Ahleuchatistas an hour before they played a benefit show at Asheville Community Resource Center on Friday, Oct. 10.
“Probably, like, the experimental section, I guess,” suggested drummer Sean Dail. “That’s the only thing I can think of.”
“Rock ‘n’ roll,” guitarist Shane Perlowin proposed.
“Experimental rock ‘n’ roll?” I tried.
“I guess so,” he said.
“Well, I think we’d call ourselves math rock,” bassist Derek Poteat specified. “We definitely have roots in math rock, anyway. If that’s possible.”
Can one have roots in math rock?
Categorization is definitely an issue for this instrumental trio, who are willing to approach labels but remain wary of undesirable associations.
“If I said it was fusion,” Perlowin mused, “well, in a sense, it is a fusion of sorts — but what do you think of? You start thinking of f••king Spyro Gyra or something.
“Or we say we’re prog, you start thinking of what happened to prog in the late ’70s.”
And, though admitting to a recent listening of Rush’s operatic 2112, Poteat chimed in emphatically, “We’re just not like that.”
“As far as our sound goes,” the bassist continued, “it’s not overly refined in any way. The songs and the structures are extremely refined; but as far as the songs themselves, it’s very raw, cranked-up amps” — what he calls a “punk-rock aesthetic.”
Declared Poteat: “I don’t want to come across … as being the scarf-wearing, English-guys-in-the-castle … “
There’s no danger of that. Much of the Ahleuchatistas’ music, heard first at the show and later on their soon-to-be-released debut CD On the Culture Industry, is intricately composed but often harsh and jarring, a sound far more suggestive of a concrete bunker than a Roger Dean pod house.
On stage, the Ahleuchatistas also distinguish themselves from their predecessor knights in white satin by way of their minimalist equipment: Perlowin and Poteat bring no cumbersome racks of blinking, digital-effects components, and Dail totes a lean, un-indulgent assemblage of drums.
Personally, I’d stick the Ahleuchatistas in whatever CD section lies exactly between prog-rock giants King Crimson and anarcho-instrumentalists Godspeed You! Black Emperor. The local trio’s tendency toward rapidly shifting time signatures is strongly suggestive of the first (“Play that song that’s really technically impressive,” a fan heckled during the show), and their super-current, almost cinematically emotive quality feels much like the second.
But the band’s skills loom largest in their ability to make aggression and abrasiveness — albeit carefully executed abrasiveness — so appealing.
“Feeling uncomfortable almost makes me feel at ease, sometimes,” Dail confessed while pondering the human attraction to sensations agitating or disconcerting. “I don’t know why that is. Maybe it’s something in the air these days.”
“To be a little philosophical, I’d say to be uneasy makes you feel more human,” Poteat ventured. “That’s the state that we’re in as a constant. The human condition is very uneasy these days, especially, and if you feel that way, you’re more in touch with what’s going on.
“The way I see it, though, is there’s beauty in things that are disturbing as much as in things that are beautiful,” he added.
And Ahleuchatistas’ songs, though in some places seeming not fully distilled, are in others, well, quite beautiful.
On the Culture Industry will hit Green Eggs & Jam on Sunday, Nov. 9. Look for an upcoming CD-release party at Vincent’s Ear.
Toward a Plum spot
Two bands preceded the Ahleuchatistas at the Oct. 10 ACRC benefit — the irreducibly ’80s Congratulations, and Sugar & The Plums, whose loud, beautiful covers of Will Oldham’s “New Partner” and Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” instantly earned them the universally coveted status of My Favorite Local Band. It’s kind of sad that The Orange Peel has already booked an opener for Steve Earle’s November show; otherwise, the Plums would have been the ones to call.