Calla
Collisions
Beggars
2005
B-



calla live in NYC and play rock darkly, but if it assuages your scenester guilt, they've got their roots in Texas and owe more of their sound to Britpop. But, yes, they've probably heard Television before, so they're still cool, if that's what you're looking for. We could namecheck all day long if we wanted, but that would be missing the point. On Collisions, Calla don't flee from their influences; instead, they turn inward on themselves, pushing out at their songs' edges. The old isn't new, it's gorgeous. And also kind of new.

Although the trick isn't new, it's older than the dog, and it goes like this: match up downer lyrics with uplifting music and let the juxtaposition have its way with the listener. With the instruments spreading their arms and vocalist Aurelio Valle restraining urgent emotions, Calla gives us a hint of what U2 will sound like once Bono says screw it to saving the world. "It Dawned on Me" opens with a rush, nodding to the gothier side of the '80s. If those bands that middle-aged critics are always going on about had healthier diets and got some blood back in their shrinking veins, they could make a song like this.

Calla's never dull enough to be one of them, though, and they also probably won't show up on the cover of NME. The repeated "As you dropped yourself to your knees, it dawned on me" sounds like epiphanic sex, which is one of the ten or fifty best kinds, but the longer this song goes, the more the violent undertones come out, the bruises and the hurt and the power. Calla knows how to play with these issues without offering anything beyond echoed sighs, and you're visiting their dirty house now.

The next few songs keep moving through this pattern, resisting expectations (on "Initiate," the next track, it's the singer who's on his knees). Then the group throws things out of whack with "Stumble" and its chopped-and-screwed-Santana opening. I'm guessing this one is for the indie kids to move up close to each other. It's hallucinatory without being psychedelic, and it gives way nicely to the slow gestation of "Imbusteros," which unfortunately dies before it can we can appreciate it.

With a fuzzed stomp, "Testify" adjusts the album's level from Night Driving to Brooklyn Rock and gives us fair warning: "If you take me too serious, there's gonna be a consequence." At two-thirds of the way into the album, it's a little late to let us know, and damn if I'm not going to take seriously someone who threats to "gouge out [my] eyes." I picture Calla and the Walkmen sitting in a diner at 2 am trading jokes while no one laughs and a waitress shoots up in the bathroom.

The Walkmen come up here, because "Swagger" could fit on Bows and Arrows and that was a good album that most people seem to have forgotten about. At least I had until "Swagger" came on. This song makes me nervous until two minutes in when this hum starts and there's just a little release, but it's a slow bleed and not the quality leeching that I want. Doctor knows best, and that's the salve I need, because it finally manages to pull everything out of me, even what I didn't know I should give up.

You've just made a very good rock album that's in its scene but not of it. How to close? Start with a whisper. You've successfully gotten everyone's attention, so don't force the matter. But your crowd's here to rock, so don't spend more than a couple minutes until the drums can get some heads nodding. Then use those guitars you've employed so effectively to sustain the emotional rise. Solo sparingly, but melodically. Don't blow up at the end—you know restraint is one of your strong points, so leave the ending a little less than a purge. Keep 'em hurting. It's a good hurt.

Buy it at Insound!


Reviewed by: Justin Cober-Lake
Reviewed on: 2005-09-27
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