Last year’s Día de los Muertos street celebration is now this year’s hit Day of the Dead release. Recorded in Oaxaca de Juárez, México by R. Weis exactly a year ago today, Cempazúchitl is fun, exuberant, and like the holiday yet despite its imagery, the exact opposite of morbid: an invitation to eat candy skulls and dance in cemeteries. Long-time readers may remember the artist from Parrot & Paperback, which is still one of the cleverest combinations we’ve ever heard. This release extends his streak of unique recordings.
The seventeen-minute recording jumps right in with a trumpet blast, drums and handclaps. The background is just as busy as the foreground. One can picture the giant heads paraded through the streets, the colors exploding from the floats. The listener soon realizes that this is as much a composition as a field recording, with “the best parts” looped to elevate the excitement. The Latin American relationship with the dead was lesser understood until recent years, when a series of animated films have helped to introduce it to a larger audience. Weis understands the balance between mourning and celebration, and underlines it here.
Beginning in the fourth minute, the brass speeds and slows, a symbol of the way one tumbles memories over in the mind, seeking the right facet. Who wouldn’t want a party to celebrate their continued existence in the afterlife? It’s also helpful not to have to chase a parade, but to have the band stop and play for a bit. The track turns into a march, then just before the ten-minute mark, a series of “oo”s, like not-so-scary ghosts, echoes across the sonic field, piercing the veil between the living and the dead. Soon the parade is moving again.
The looped approach also imitates its subject matter: the dead returning to earth on a cyclical basis, the living remembering the dead during annual observances: a dance of finding and losing, missing and reuniting, if only for one night, in hopes of a longer reunion down the line. The final brass blasts slow like a heartbeat and are lowered gently into the grave, followed not by tears but appreciative applause. (Richard Allen)
I second this review—it’s 17 minutes of eclectic, deeply entertaining sonic joy.