There is a world in which The Mars Volta knocked up Radiohead and their kid is smoking the Sinful Cilantro in the attic, listening to Punk Rock protest songs. This is that world.
Honestly, at this point it’s a blind buy for me. Not only did I preorder the album blind, but I also decided immediately to do this write-up before having listened to a single note. That is not something I ever do but the thing is there was never a question about whether the Canucks that unassumingly gave us Trace and The Memory Empire would once again strike sonic gold with their unique brand of mathy, psychedelic Drone Funk. Somehow, Atsuko Chiba managed once again to light my brain aflame without overshooting themselves in any way. This album does not set up unrealistic expectations for what is to come, it merely helps nail down a solid band identity with another strange, esoteric, whimsical escapade, which is by turns layered with complexity and enveloped by abstract repose.
The album really takes off, for me, on the second track, in particular, ”So Much For,” where Atsuko’s references shine through as the group avails themselves of a spiffy new wind and string section and a guitar technique as if out of Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s own playbook. The vocals do attempt a different approach and are often counterbalanced against the melody in a way that doesn’t click right in, but instead makes your brain work on connecting the dots. Then on ”Shook,” we have a song that features probably the catchiest hook on the album – making it deceitfully radio-friendly – and reminds us of those earlier albums, which could easily be wall-to-wall hooks. But they never stoop to the LCD’s of mainstream radio and, as always, respect the groove – always anchored by that lovely full-bodied bass throughout.
The interesting thing about this band – and their perceived position in the underground – is the way they are able to subsume such an array of strange and fascinating ideas into arrangements with such undeniable mainstream appeal. ”Seeds” is another such track. A seemingly simple drone and various electronic elements are grounded by a constant and prominent bass line, a washed out vocal treatment, and tight, compelling fills on the drum kit. It might not sound like a party on paper but it all comes together with some kind of special sauce.
Even a song like ”Link,” the shortest track on show, wears its influences perhaps most plainly, and that is not a bad thing. The vocals drop the riffing (à la Zach de la Rocha) from past entries and take up a spoken-word approach I am not particularly fond of, but there is so much meat on these bones, I can’t help but be won over. Every other song changes gears and that doesn’t end with the title track, which proceeds to tie the album together in a way that feels more like a preamble than a period.
And so, what do we think of it all? I have some minor gripes. For instance (and this is not the first time) the album winds down just as I’m revving up and I’m like where’s the other half? The other thing to consider is in regards to how successful this album is in the context of the greater discography. Here is where I am split. On the one hand, Atsuko Chiba succeeds in advancing their artistic narrative incrementally with a few new additions and perspectives, and on the other hand they have not ventured out on a new path, as we might have expected. I do enjoy the foundation they have been laying, however, and appreciate the expanded palette on this one, and obviously they have me hooked with their core sound, but at the same time I don’t sense the same chill pessimism or unlikely experimentation I’ve come to expect from their previous works, in which the tenets of their nonconformist mépris had already been well established.
A fascinating expression of Prog and Psych progressions, frequent time changes, droney swells and righteous rhymes, which compels and confounds inquiry, Water, It Feels Like It’s Growing adds to the complexity with horns and strings, does not lose focus by striving to reinvent itself, but rather solidifies an expression of modern psychedelic hedonism and punk resistance with another solid entry, another ridiculously eclectic vignette I’m still processing, still untangling, still loving for all its subtleties and excesses. All I know is it still challenges me in all the right ways, and, in spite of (or thanks in part to) consistently pushing my comfort zone, here I am hanging on every funky note. I still want more of that good stuff.