I loved instrumental music in high school, but for the last several years, my dislike for it has steadily grown. So often it devolves into noncommittal, aimless doodling, which strikes me as boring at best and downright wasteful at worst. However, if more instrumental bands sounded as methodical and point-driven as local quartet Carnaval, my opinion would be drastically different.
I tend to lean towards old-school country and bluegrass because it has a level of humanity I rarely find in modern wordless music, so interestingly enough, when I imported Carnaval's three-track, self-titled debut EP into iTunes, it fell between Carl Perkins and the Carter Family. While the first and third tracks have fitting, minimalist lyrics, the best track was "Lights For Nero," the seven-and-a-half-minute second track, which embraces instrumentalism fully and left me with the same happily dizzy feeling "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" used to give me.
All four members switch up instruments often, in fact, drummer Tom Gorecki's slowly building piano on "Lights For Nero" is the highlight of the album. The song takes its time, carrying an almost euphoric tone through several crescendos and relapses — as soon as it ended, I hit repeat to study more closely how they came up with that exact sound. On the song, brothers Josh and Andrew Pike play bass and guitar, respectively, and Sean Fentross adds a second guitar, but on the other tracks, the three play musical chairs with their instruments. In their live show, they do the same thing, constantly moving around and taking turns.
Another live show staple is the aggressive use of the bow on the electric guitar, a la Jimmy Page, and the slightly less aggressive use of the bow by violinist Hannah Lienert. Both remind me of my favorite instrumental band of all time, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, featuring the great John McLaughlin and Jerry Goodman dueling on electric guitar and electric violin.
The opener of the EP, "Carnaval," sets the intensity level high and lets the audience know that the music has a point; these guys are not fucking around. Recorded with Bryan Hatchell in his private Columbia studio, all three tracks bleed together and keep an alternately rollicking and soothing feel, much like how their live show keeps you guessing but feels circular. Hopefully these are the first three tracks of many from this serious and talented crew. (facebook.com/carnavalmusic)
Carnaval shares the stage at the Tin Roof with Alexander and the Grapes on Sat. June 9.