Sholi – Sholi Sholi – Sholi

Sholi – Sholi

Sholi – Sholi

When words like “mood” and “texture” are used to describe music, I tend to imagine lush, slowly strummed guitars, thick layers of languid keyboard drones, or some gross combination of the two. The self-titled debut by San Francisco’s Sholi is an excellent reminder that a band doesn’t have to be slow-cooked background study music to evoke mood or texture. Their mood is bittersweet and sinister, their texture brittle and biting. Sholi’s songs are seemingly broken into thousands of sharp, distinct hits, progressing one brisk guitar note or frenzied snare hit at a time, often at breakneck speeds.
While this template makes it a little tough to follow their tightly woven grooves on first listen, “Sholi” never feels like a prog-rock album. In fact, the guitar, bass and drum trio are closer to a jazz band than a rock band, often foregoing volume and distortion to search out rhythmic subtlety, even gesturing at formless improvisation as on the opener “All That We Can See.” But where Sholi truly excel is in their grooves (another word that irrationally brings really lame music to mind), which are all flurried and busy drumming with guitar and bass winding at half speed overtop, the sum of their note movements creating beautifully eerie progressions. The quiet, slow-paced versus of “Spy In The House Of Memories” is downright creepy, with drummer Jonathan Bafus interjecting sparse, unhinged outbursts over the strings’ dissonant gossamer.
Bafus deserves some kind of award for his drumming on this album. It’s beyond awesome. It’s fucking killer. How a person can cram so many skittering snare rolls and hi-hat bursts within such fleeting moments of time is beyond me. But to keep it so clean, precise, and consistent? That’s just baffling. And then knowing when to throw that precision out the window for perfectly placed moments of free-jazz anarchy? Seriously, there hasn’t been groove drumming this brilliant since The Minutemen’s “Double Nickels On The Dime.”
There’s only a couple minor hang-ups I have with this album, the first being guitarist and primary songwriter Payam Bavafa’s voice, which is a little too smooth and indistinct to make an impression over the band’s deft musicianship, as he seems content to simply let it glide over the songs’ jagged currents. And secondly, what’ll be Sholi’s fate now that their label Quarterstick Records (an affiliate of Touch & Go) just tanked? Obviously this has nothing to do with the album; I’m just supremely bummed about one of my favorite labels kicking the bucket is all. I suppose the silver lining to this tragedy is that Sholi, along with Crystal Antlers and Mi Ami, are totally worthy of closing out Touch & Go’s rich and crucial chapter in the history of independent music.

-Michael Squeri

Sholi - Sholi, reviewed by Squeri on 2009-03-04T01:11:46-08:00 rating 4.0 out of 5

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