Maria Elena Silva - Eros LP

Maria Elena Silva - Eros LP

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In November of 2019, Maria Elena Silva made the trek from Wichita, Kansas to Chris Schlarb’s studio, BIG EGO, in Long Beach, California. Along for the ride was drummer and collaborator, Scott Dean Taylor. The two had developed a unique musical language over the course of two previous albums and many live performances. A creative dream team of Los Angeles musicians was summoned and within three days a gem of a record was in the can. Arrangements came together fast in the studio and later Schlarb’s mix would provide the final word on orchestration.

Those previous records, Es De Fantasia and Hollow Bones feature Maria's captivating voice up front, with tight rhythm sections, and her own creative, flamenco-influenced rhythm guitar playing. She describes her own music as “ethereal folklore.” With Eros, “ethereal” becomes “ETHEREAL". The songs on this album live in suspension: percolating and swirling with energy and detail, but without the driving rhythms of past records. “I wanted what I was writing to be free of restriction, and free of the percussive rhythm that I had worked on a lot before,” she explains. There’s a delicacy and fluid sense of time throughout. Serious song-craft and moody free improvisation are interdependent and living their best lives because of it! It’s hard to pinpoint the genealogy here, but my blindfold guess would be Victor Jara, PJ Harvey, Annette Peacock, and Derek Bailey had a tryst involving quaaludes, which spawned a baby named Maria Elena Silva, who, in turn, birthed Eros decades later.

Silva’s voice sets the mood immediately— patient and haunting, but with warm immediacy. Her style is breathy and minimalistic: straight, austere tones, scarce ornaments. There’s clear control and measured power even when she’s at a stage whisper. On the rare occasions when heavy vibrato or blink-and-you’ll-miss-it belting happen (“’Badge of Honor”), these hit home with their deliberateness. Taylor’s drumming contributes mightily to the subtle atmosphere. He often lays out, just barely plays, or plays free while the rest of the band plays in time. When he does play a groove, it’s not the groove any mortal would choose.

“December,” opens with patent slowness via Silva’s clean-toned guitar and vocals. Taylor’s drums comment, faint but listening and supporting like nobody’s business. A Hammond organ drone creeps in, leading us further down our path to… no-one-knows-where. Two minutes in at the chorus, we encounter the full band for the first time in its sparse-but-lush glory— second electric guitar and horns intertwining, drums and percussion hinting at a pocket. The piece ends with a descending horn line, ushering us along and settling us into the drone at the beginning of the second track, “Spill”.

On most of the songs, Silva’s guitar provides a concise, elegant skeleton expertly fleshed out by the band. It goes without saying all are killer instrumentalists, many of them LA creative music lynchpins. What’s most striking though is the ensemble playing and arrangement: Alex Sadnik and Brian Walsh’s woodwinds in magical counterpoint, Jeff Parker and Schlarb’s guitar parts perfectly complementing Silva’s, Philip Glenn’s organ entrances psychically setting up a new section, Anthony Shadduck’s contrabass grounding us when the band’s at its most impressionistic ("Spill", "Quemado", "De Noche"), flawlessly placed percussion textures by Danny Frankel. If we’re talking jazz, there’s a lot in common with the polyphony and collective improvising of 1920’s New Orleans. It’s about composite sound, not ripping solos. If we’re talking ethos, it’s about the group and not the individual.

Lyrically, Silva manages to be both otherworldly and confessional. Written in the wake of a divorce, these are stories of isolation and wasted love, near death experiences, spiritual burnings and etchings. “I tell the truth too much these days / Some things are better left unsaid,” begins “December.” Across three tracks in Spanish and the rest in English, the lyrics are direct and carefully wrought, their essentialism matching the music. Two improvised instrumental tracks, "Ribbons" and "Thickets", provide a very cool, loose contrast to the “songs.” Abstract, but totally in character with the rest of the album.

Tangential similarities can be found in the art rock of Talk Talk and Godspeed You Black Emperor but Eros is in a class of its own. It sits with dead certainty within uncertainty. The record offers no resolution— lyrical, musical, or emotional— but remains an exquisitely beautiful listen. - Ava Mendoza, Brooklyn, New York