My foray into critiquing the “local” music scene has become quite an adventure in my first go-round. Greg’s suggestion of reviewing the album Viva! by Spokane’s La Cha-Cha has become the blog music review version of a 40s film noir detective movie: a mix of The Maltese Falcon, “Spin Magazine, and Boingboing. It started out simple enough: I was given a copy of an album to listen to, the name of the band, and the album name.1
After I received the album, questions started to come up: Where were the track names? Who were these musicians? What was their story? Living in Denver, I was not afforded the gift of context. I needed answers, so I went to my informant, iTunes. Polishing a bar glass, he told me what I needed to know, and that I was missing the first three tracks. When I asked if I could get them, he said he would ask around, but it would cost me extra. He drove a hard bargain, but I wasn’t about to be shook down; I took my track names and album art, then split. As I was heading out the door, iTunes shouted after me:
“Viva! came out in 2007; they have a new album that came out last year!”
That little piece of information stuck in my head, but I wasn’t going to be deterred from giving the album I was presented a listen.
After a few plays, I started constructing my critique. Viva! is the epitome of a debut album. A local band with a groundswell of support goes into the studio to record some tracks, only something gets lost from the stage to the recording studio to the CD. The vocals get buried in the mix; the songs feel edited; many feel all over the place, like the band was still trying to find their sound. I could tell the experience of a band people love seeing live wasn’t quite getting across to those of us who have never experienced seeing them in person.
But it’s there, lurking in the shadows, following you from alleyway to smoky bar. Something in the music tells you the potential for something great is waiting to be found. It’s in the bluesy, emotional guitar solos; in the moments that the songs rise in intensity, but end too soon. Songs like “The Contract” and “Boring Like That” want to be grand, and feel like they should be about a minute longer on the album and 7-10 minute adventures live.2 Just when I start getting into what is building musically, the song is over, and I’m left feeling, “that’s it?”
But I know it’s there. Amidst a fever dream, I saw my bartender friend’s face, taunting me with the information that they have a follow-up album that came out last year. I woke in a sweat in my office; I needed more answers. iTunes wasn’t about to sing, so I went to someone I knew could help, a nightclub singer named YouTube. After buying her a dirty martini and lighting her cigarette, she gave me a name: The Som Show.
I hailed a cab and hurried across town to catch the concert before it ended. I was able to catch La Cha-Cha performing the title track of their second album, “Blueprint For A Bank Heist.” The doorman said if I liked what I saw, he could direct me to the studio version of the song.
It told me everything I needed to know: my gut was right. A band must not be judged solely on the merit of their recorded work, especially a debut. The vocal mix was where it needed to be, the guitar solos were still fantastic, the band felt tighter, and the songs felt complete. Most importantly, the sound felt unique.
I went back to my office to write up my findings, only to find my employer already there. Apparently La Cha-Cha had broken up, and this was to be a swan song review of sorts. It was like I was shot. I wasn’t hired to write a review, but a remembrance of a band I never knew until it was too late.3
I felt like tracks 4-13 of Viva! and I had become good friends, and I am looking forward to getting to know Blueprint For A Bank Heist better. I had hoped to see La Cha-Cha live down the road, to get the full experience of what I had been missing, but sadly, never shall we meet. I wish the best to you all, and I wish for safe travels to Brazil.