Wholly different than the raucous horrorflavored punk of his Hex Dispensers and Feast of Snakes, Alex Cuervo's Espectrostatic is an aberration, but an abberation long in the making. After putting over twenty five years of skin into the punk game, Espectrostatic finds Cuervo nurturing his obsession with synthheavy genre film soundtracks and paying tribute to the masters of that medium, like John Carpenter, Ennio Morricone, and Goblin.
After testing the waters with various solo efforts, including an EP's worth of experimental instrumentals on Trouble In Mind, Cuervo has emerged from the woodshed reinvented. On his website, Cuervo expresses an interest in scoring film, television, and games. Upon listening to Espectrostatic, those ambitions are apparent almost immediately. In many ways Espectrostatic is an audition for Cuervo's own second act. That he makes a such a dramatic and compelling case so quickly is the truly remarkable part. Even in doing so, he manages to honor the stripped-bare aesthetic of past projects by truncating what seem like longer performances and distilling them to their purest, most vital moments.
Where other acts might use the synth as a quirk or a bauble, Cuervo places the synthesized sound at the front and center of Espectrostatic. At once funereal, searching, and triumphant, the album only depresses when it isn’t invigorating and only confounds when it isn’t revealing. More than anything else, Cuervo traffics in big reveals. That it is so emotionally evocative owes to Cuervo's sense of brevity. None of the songs on Espectrostatic hit the four minute mark. But these short compositions are long on big, lofty moments. The pulsing and swirling of the synth invariably gives way to soaring crescendoes. It may speak more to limitations than intent, but, in some cases the sense of triumph and release is muted by its quickness in coming and the lack of variety stifles the drama. Still, Cuervo is only just arriving to this storied medium. As he grows comfortable with it, the inventiveness that fueled Hex Dispensers and his sundry other projects will follow.
Cuervo certainly does not lack for ambition. Song titles like “Lost in the Catacombs,” “The Wrong Side of the Portal,” and “Consulting the Necronauts,” are a little bit tongue in cheek, but they seem to hint at worlds beyond the edges of the album’s periphery. Cuervo takes an obvious glee in hinting at a larger telling. It is this Borgesian quality of scoring not yet written narratives that allows Espectrostatic to transcend a designation of curiosity or experiment and to be the capable and ambitious 'suite of instrumentals' that it is. The Prog Rock that informs Espectrostatic is most evident when taken in in this light. If Cuervo weren't so quick to make with the good parts, it would be easy to accuse him of taking too high-minded an approach to Espectrostatic. True to the punk aesthetic, though, Cuervo keeps things lean.
Espectrostatic arrives a few years after Cliff Martinez's Drive soundtrack achieved wide critical acclaim. It arrives in the year Josh Johnson's VHS fetishization doc Rewind This! beckons fickle hipsters Thrift Store-ward to mine celluloid riches and ironies untold. It arrives when limited edition Mondo prints adorn walls of living rooms where games like Hotline Miami and Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon warm screens. Espectrostatic owes much to the reassessment of eighties culture that has long been underway. To dismiss Espectrostatic as nostalgia, or retrorevival would be a mistake. In crafting Espectrostatic, Cuervo has built a house of allusion, but the album’s most remarkable quality is how self contained it is. Espectrostatic is an artifact upon arrival. Something to be puzzled out. Cuervo is breathing new life into a genre that is rife with cliche. Though he makes liberal use of these cliches, he does so with joyful abandon, returning something wholly different than what he borrowed.