I listened to Rodrigo Y Gabriela’s new album, 9 Dead Alive, on the Tuesday morning after I’d finished my exams. It was overcast outside, and I hadn’t seen any of my housemates as of yet (half had gone to Dirty Sexy People the night before, half had gone to the library). It was just this album and I, a situation I’d never been in with Rodrigo Y Gabriela before – whilst I’d listened to 11:11 often, I normally used it as backing music. Actively listening to 9 Dead Alive then, it’s at times a mixed bag, but I recommend checking it out if you’re a fan of this sort of music.
If you’re reading this having not heard of Rodrigo Y Gabriela, I should clarify one thing that I’ll be using as a basis in reviewing this album. Their musicianship is incredible. In terms of aptitude and talent, the duo are streets ahead of the vast majority of their contemporaries, operating on a level that seems insurmountable to professional guitarists and cover artists alike (I’ve tried). Don’t think Mariachi, instead think Flamenco Rumba – and before continuing reading, I suggest you check out a live performance on YouTube. Both components of the act are virtuoso, so one should expect a high standard in their recordings.
The locus of the album then is the musicianship, and the success of the album should be gauged on the extent to which this translates to the listener. Soundmaker is a bold opening, juddering along with intent and dominated by an unrelenting beat from Gabriela over Rodrigo’s fretwork. It sets the tone well and epitomises where 9 Dead Alive is at its best – when there’s a strong sense of progression. Whilst by no means poor tracks, Sunday Neurosis and La Salle De Pas Perdus have a strong sense of aimlessness to them, with the former descending into a labyrinthine soundscape populated by phantasmal snippets of philosophers such as Richard Dawkins, and eventually book-ended by the sound of a plane taking off. Very deep I suppose, but I was still no closer by the third listen to either deciphering the track or indeed feeling all that engaged with it.
However, the vast majority of 9 Dead Alive works extremely well, displaying Rodrigo Y Gabriela at their best – unfathomably good guitar work accompanied by an incredible polyphonic arrangement that tests the suspension of belief that only two people can manage to play all of it at once. Overall then, the album is, on the whole, a job well done. Apart from a few diversions into confusion, it should satisfy enthusiasts and casual connoisseurs alike.