It’s uncommon for a band to break up, then return stronger than ever ~ but this rarity has just occurred. Portuguese band How Comes the Constellations Shine (once known as Purfect) is now down to its original member, guitarist Gonçalo Pereira. Last year, Pereira introduced another solo project known as Diamond Gloss; Bears was one of the year’s best electronic entries, an album of mourning suffused with a quiet beauty and a childlike grace. Perhaps it was through this venture that Pereira decided to revisit How Comes the Constellations Shine, and to “tone it down”, as the press release indicates. This turns out to have been a very good idea, because this post-rock is tender and thoughtful, deeper in emotion than typically encountered in the field.
A leftover sadness – a muted melancholy – carries over from Bears, although few would pinpoint other comparisons. The music box timbres of that album are absent here; as expected, guitar is the primary instrument. Piano, drums, and light electronics are also present, and mesh well with their friends. It’s easy to play well with others when the others are alternate versions of one’s self. The multitracking creates such a convincing illusion that it’s unlikely Pereira will invite the other band members to return any time soon; in terms of the studio, they are simply not needed.
While many post-rock albums deal in crescendoes, Belongs to Mafra flourishes best in bursts – the moments in which the cymbals crash and complete the instrumentation. “Untitled Three” contains a particularly nice set of these, each one a bit louder, snares establishing a military cadence while the bass booms in response. The percussion of the following track sounds like troops on the march; perhaps these are not good times in Portugal. Many of the other tracks – all untitled – eschew the drums in order to concentrate on mood. The best of these – “Untitled Eight” – makes use of flight communication in order to establish a dramatic base. But the album’s best piece is the tenderhearted “Untitled Nine”, the album’s closest link to Bears. This selection operates as a lullaby, with soft electronics and a soothing guitar melody, morphing gently each time it recurs.
Technically, a band with one member can never “break up”, so it’s safe to say that How Comes the Constellations Shine is here to stay, or at least is free to stick around as long as it (he) wants. Whatever guise Pereira chooses to take, we’re glad that he’s returned. (Richard Allen)