trajedesaliva‘s Ultratumbo (2021) is one of the most unique recordings we’ve ever covered, boasting one of the strangest and most beguiling covers. This year, the duo has upped the ante in every way imaginable. Not only have they teamed up with Maud the Moth, they’ve signed to Time Released Sound, which means exquisite packaging ~ in this case, the choice of lathe cut, cassette, CD or art tin. The videos are even more powerful. AND it’s a concept album. Our collective cups runneth over.
With the expanded sound and presentation comes a different tone. Ultratumbo was dark and disturbing, drawing listeners into a sonic world rife with family dysfunction. On Bordando el manto terrestre (roughly translated as Embroidering the terrestrial mantle), the sun seems to have risen. Yet rest assured, the intrigue remains, as these tracks are intricate and layered, and the entire album has the feel of a fairy tale. Embroidered is the perfect word for this music, as the notes seem sewn and cross-stitched; there’s also an embroidering of tone, with hints of the former darkness present in the bees and buzz of “Fruta alrededor de una vela.” The closest sonic correlation is Hyperium’s classic Heavenly Voices series, which included the most incredible lineup of ethereal music available at the time. If Bordando sparks a revival of phantasmagorical music, all the better.
The album is a tribute to Spanish-born Mexican surrealist painter Remedios Varo, and unfolds in three distinct movements. “Trasmudo” covers her pained exile, just as fascism was taking root in Europe. As one might expect, some of the album’s most unnerving music occurs here, paired with two striking videos. “Perdí pie” (“I lost my footing”) explores themes of abandonment, with broken buildings, lichen, shadow and string. The masked violinist plays found objects as figures appear in shrouds. Maud the Moth (Amaya López-Carromero) sings an elegy. Hands appear through portals, representing worlds and nations, the disconnection of exile and ensuing hiraeth. unavena speaks over moonbeams. A ripple retracts; insects emerge from pupae. Mon Ninguén’s synthesizers pulse toward an unseemly end.
The intensity increases on “Jardincito de rosa y tierra.” A woman steps into an egg-like spotlight, uncertain, sheltering her body. A drumstick is raised; an explosion erupts behind. The shrouded figures return in a rush of sound. The camera trolls the body. Now the spotlight rests impossibly on its side. As real eggs appear, the symbolism seeps from the screen. A poultice is prepared. A snail carries its home on its back, as Varo shoulders memories and histories. What, if anything, is stable? Moving images flash across a face; an Ophelia figure lies on her side, cutout hands peeling from her dress, connecting to “Perdí pie.” A nun in prayer becomes an innocent nude, attempting to get her bearings as arms appear in shadow behind her. Is this what it feels like to live in exile, not only from one’s country, but from one’s body?
After so much religious imagery comes the image of a cat, incongruous until one realizes that cats are important in Varo’s work (“Cuerpo de gato” / “Cat body” makes the connection explicit). Now the arms are no longer shadows, the protagonist affected yet continuing to look ahead. Everybody wants something. And who has the right to define the human body, the artist, the exile? The final glance from the drummer is away: either resolve or the residue of uncertainty.
The second movement, “Naturaleza Muerta Resucitando,” delves into Varo’s fascination with transmogrification. Humans take on the forms of animals, insects, inanimate objects. The lines between living and non-living are blurred. As the videos have set the stage, one is already tuned into these transformations. Maud the Moth and trajedesaliva embody Vero’s paint in sound, with ever-morphing compositions, cut with the sounds of nature. While the tracks are non-linear, the album is linear, akin to a translation of travel. The organ speaks of spiritual things; the soaring vocals are like choirs, the spoken word like readings at an altar.
As the album approaches “Rompiendo el círculo vicioso,” the shadows start to recede. Varo is coming to terms not only with her exile, but with herself, finding worth in her creations, in the art of bringing to life what formerly existed only in the mind. Such is the process of embroidering. The surrealist artist tells her story through painting, the musicians through sound, the package artists (Colin and Maria) through collage. A story is told in triplicate, transmuting at every turn.
In “Perla” (“Pearl”), the music brightens, with interwoven harmony. Peace permeates the notes, as even shadow is woven into strands of light. These artists may have set out to tell a story, but in the process they have become part of it as well. (Richard Allen)