The band, helmed by singer-lyricist Paula Catherine Valencia and multi-instrumentalist Daniel Martin Diaz, has been recording together since 1989 and released its first album in 2005.
The set includes 100 songs across five discs (each also available individually), running more than five hours. Much of the material is fresh; some archival stuff dates back as far as the 1990s, but hasn’t been released until now.
The set is a bit intimidating, because there’s so much to take in. Maybe the best way to listen to these CDs is to play one per day and let the music surround you for a while.
Each separate disc has its own flavor, but it’s tough to characterize them. The relatively accessible pop-rock of Shadow Pins includes highlights such as the near-funk groove of “What Your Tongue Denied,” the delicate guitar filigrees of “Breath,” the mesmerizing trip-hop-style track “He Said,” the brawny mid-tempo rocker “Until” and the widescreen drama of “Sunday.”
Also on this disc, lead guitarist Damian Demetrius Diaz—son of Diaz and Valencia—contributes the lovely Cure-like instrumental “February,” which he wrote, performed and recorded using an Android cell phone.
Especially inviting are the otherworldly textures of Snails in Her Hand, on which the new-wave-style cut “Primordial Soup” brings to mind Siouxsie and the Banshees. Also included are some charming songs that combine electronics with acoustic guitars, such as “Reflections of the Spirit” and “I Can See.” There’s some cool experimental material, such as the clanging “Bought a New Hair,” but I was most impressed with Valencia’s multitracked vocals on “Changes” and “Escape.”
Soul Retriever starts out with a terrific track, “Thief in the Night,” that features Valencia’s beautiful spider-web vocals (ethereal and assertive at the same time), and a drum track created by guest artist … music video? “Fire and Blood” boasts a dynamic, neo-soul groove, and many of the tunes here exercise R&B-based rhythms. “When the Morning Comes,” “Strange Little Girl” and “I Can Make You Love Me” might be characterized as unsettling, but in a wholly attractive and inventive way.
Music for Unmade Movies, Vol. 2 is heavy on atmospheric, soundtracklike compositions, most of them by Diaz. One of the most-attractive tracks is the seven-minute “Quantum Mysticism,” a mantralike slice of electronica that owes no small debt to Kraftwerk. The hazy “Sacred Revelation” may be short, but its lullabylike quality and Valencia’s recitation make it worth returning to. The album closes with Diaz’s interpretation of J.S. Bach’s Fugue in G Minor, on which he plays keyboards and applies spooky sound treatments.
Slow in Obeying an Order is an ambitious, expansive rock album, filled with alluring songs that might be hit tunes in an alternate universe. It opens with “Let the World Fall Away,” which sounds not unlike something from U2’s The Unforgettable Fire. In fact, several of these tracks, especially “Virtuous,” feel as if they could’ve been made with Brian Eno, the creative visionary and co-producer of that album. There is a stellar local guest on this disc, though: “Spinning Into You,” a thrilling, slow-build rocker, features Calexico’s Joey Burns on piano and backing vocals.