There are no cum shots in Black Oni. There are long builds, ecstatic crescendi, contemplative soundfields, thunderous riffs, all the appurtenances of narrative, without any lazy concessions to closure. If you want fan service fuck off and listen to Dream Theater. Like the protagonist of a W.G. Sebald novel, the wayward present moment of this album wanders unpredictably through unsettled territories and unfinished business. Guapo are a band that sound as though they know what they want to say, but it’s nothing obvious and nothing comfortable.
The music is made of recognisable stuff. It’s instrumental riff rock: drums, bass, guitar, organ and mellotron, welded into largely tonal riffs that kick the listener in some of the places they’re accustomed to being kicked. It’s nothing that anybody’s likely to dance to, but it still addresses itself somehow to the viscera. It comes in through your ears, and you feel it. Its rough, ominous surface elides a good deal of musical sophistication, however. Odd times are painted with cyclical riffs rather than clever across-the-bar-line phrasing, but they still feel natural, and—while the overall effect is in many ways profoundly odd—not that odd. Similarly there are a lot of harmonic materials that are not exactly consonant or bluesy, but they still simmer and froth like rock is supposed to.
It’s in the long-form that this record stakes its claim. When I said it has ‘long builds’, that was a shorthand—there is in fact nothing to say that the destination of a quiet passage is a loud passage, or that a sere texture will necessarily lead to a dense one. There are loud passages, moments of chaos and warfare, but they don’t necessarily arise out of the passages that precede them. Sometimes they simply explode across them. Sometimes the quietest, most ambient skeins of dusky grit with which Guapo seed this album are the most intense and gripping experiences to be had. It must be listened to in the whole: it is a single piece, as suggested by the five numbered movements into which it’s divided. Nothing is obvious; nothing is here to be ‘atmospheric’, or to be otherwise available to a set of stock aesthetic responses. The particular is immanent in every moment.
It would be easy enough to reach out to some of the musicians involved in this extraordinary record and ask about its production. It has the feel of improvised music, the openness and the lucid sense of presence. But when the band break out into a unison riff after several minutes of essentially formless sound-making it’s pretty obvious that there was some planning involved. However, whether none of it was jammed out, or most of it was, isn’t something I particularly wish to discover. I prefer to meet it at the surface it presents to the world, to stand on the shore and let its dark, abyssal wave-front break over me. This is music to connect the listener to something bigger than the joy of riff, or the trainspotting of the music geek. This is music as presence.