BACK IN 2008, fans of Tera Melos let me know I was a piece of human garbage-shit after I described their EP Drugs to the Dear Youth in a published review as a "debilitating audio-vascular workout." It wasn't necessarily meant to be a slight, but MySpacers vilified my assessment—the band even wrote me to discuss the review. The California band was and is a staple in the Central Valley scene for its whirling prog, feisty post-punk, and volatile live sets. Nearly everyone calls it math-rock. And to the chagrin of the band, that tag remained its closest qualifier.
Tera Melos, however, has bloomed from that frantic inception into something that almost no one expected. Their all-instrumental noise-fests made room for more melody; their technical proficiency gave way to the introduction of vocals; their creative palette experienced a rebirth as their deliberate sonic explorations dipped into the wacky world of the Mothers of Invention, Pixies, and even the Flaming Lips. The band's fantastic new album, X'ed Out, and its predecessor, Patagonian Rats, are hardly recognizable as being produced by the same group.
"The intention was never to be an instrumental band," says vocalist/guitarist Nick Reinhart. "I feel like looking back on our last record and this record, it's us trying to get to a level where we were comfortable playing this type of music."
Eschewing the hyper-scientific freakouts that saturated their earlier releases, the band has learned to play to the strengths of the song. Sometimes through difficult band consensuses, they strip down parts they'd ordinarily have shredded through. It's become a meditative Zen engagement, and one that Reinhart admits the band is still learning how to do, often with some difficulty.
"We don't have a good, objective perspective on our music anymore," Reinhart explains. "It makes sense to us, but it doesn't really because we're so close to it. So a lot of times we'll say, 'Wait a second, is that lame?' or, 'Does this pass the lame barrier and get into cool territory?'"
X'ed Out, at times, still exhibits a huge amount of technical prowess. "Sunburn" is perhaps the prime example of the marriage of the band's systematic aptitude and their newfound direction—a track that sounds like a punk-rock sideshow where someone fed the tattooed man too much DMT. Pop sensibilities (cleverly obscured as they may be) abound, too, on "No Phase," which Tera Melos anchors on vocal patterns, not noodling riffage.
This paradigm shift came consciously, and collectively, from the band. As Reinhart explains, X'ed Out is the new mile marker that Tera Melos had been striving for since the beginning. "We're making records now that we're really stoked on, whereas with our three other releases, they just sort of happened by default," says Reinhart. "We had a bunch of songs, we could go into a studio and have days to record them all, and in the end they are what they are. Now, it's what we wanted it to be."