Manta Ray

Sat April 17
Berbati's Pan
10 SW 3rd

Manta Ray, that band generically referred to as Spain's "premier post-punk band," has never visited the United States before. Hopefully, their experience of the country first-hand will be less gloomy than their awareness of American racial oppression, as referenced by the song "Rosa Parks" on their fourth album, Estratexa.

In any case, it'll be a mutual learning opportunity. Manta Ray demonstrates for us an ability to mold a tension and suspense into their music that may bear its influences (Sonic Youth's more epic endeavors come to mind), but avoids tribute. As guitars squabble amongst themselves, bass and steady drumming sustain an insistent rhythm, creating an edgy, almost uncomfortable consistency.

Vocals appear on some, though not most of the songs, and their presence is unassuming, entering the music at the same level of intensity as the rest of the instruments, augmenting them. Some lyrics are Spanish, some English, but they're vague enough that they add to the ambience--equivalent to the voices you hear behind the fuzz of a channel your TV doesn't get.

Listening to Estratexa, one can imagine a black and white scene in which a fedora-wearing detective prowls city streets, with some of Manta Ray's creeping, noir-ish mood music coloring the background. This evocatively visual quality awarded them the opportunity to compose and perform Score, a project created specifically for the 1999 International Film Festival in Gijón, Spain. They locked themselves away, with a number of contributing musicians, for over four months, solely to compose and rehearse for a single show.

They're subtle, but they don't sound like background music. Lacking fancy tricks, Manta Ray's music hearkens back to old-fashioned film techniques, when special effects were representational or implied, before we got all desensitized. They remind us that sometimes, imagination and heart go a lot farther than CGI flash and bombast.