Spotlights - Tidals (2016)

When we stumble on the increasingly less rare occurrence of a husband and wife sharing the same musical space, it's a knee jerk reaction to spend more time speculating on interpersonal relationships than on the music that comes from them. Such is our modern obsession with drama and voyeurism. The only way to combat that is, of course, by making something that is bigger than the two of you. For Mario Quintero and wife Sarah, their work together in Spotlights isn't about relationship dynamics or a struggle to be heard. Answering a question that likely comes up more often than not, Mario told Culture Creature, "Luckily, we see things on the same plane and we like all the same kinds of music… There’s just enough differences to keep us pushing the limits a little bit. It’s a lot of fun.” It's there that we find the recurring theme in their latest piece, Tidals.

The duo have their fingerprints - and hands, and feet, and voices - all over every stage of the process, from writing and production, to recording and mixing. As such, the album is molded and crafted in their own vision, a vision they share with one another. There's a resulting comfort in how the album progresses from start to finish, a resounding confidence that each musical movement sounds as it was intended and flows as it should. It's unapologetic in that way, anchoring the often airy nature of its vocals to the steadfast and constant pulse of the instrumental below. Listening to Walls is a daydream come to life, like a kite on a string floating near the clouds but tied to the ground below. It's beautiful in its nuance, particularly when you've reached the four minute mark. The scaled melody rests just behind the guitar and bass, barely audible at times, but each time it breaks through, it's as pure as anything could be.

Maybe that moment, that space in time, is where the album becomes transcendent. From that very spot, there is no looking back. Whether it's the distinctly moody track The Grower, which employs and crackle and fuzz that once made me believe my speakers had finally given up their last hope, or the grunge-laden, bass driven Hover, there isn't a time when you feel as though things have gone off the rails. It grows, expanding beyond the confines of what heavy music is supposed to be, then contracts, suddenly feeling as though it was an album written and performed just for you. It'll seem silly at first, when the hairs on your arms start to stand at attention. Maybe it's just a fluke, a one time response to something breathtaking and unexpected. But it isn't. Each listen is living the song anew. They foster a connection that is harder in 2016 than it was years ago, but is no less meaningful.

But on an album that feels like it's full of revelations, it's the album's closing track, Joseph, that makes the world seem much less uncertain. From the flourishes of electronics to the plodding main riff that is split in two by a string bending, high pitched, wailing solo, they flirt with an impossibility, a song that echoes life itself. Quiet, humble beginnings, building to a moment that is as powerful emotionally as it is musically, before it all begins to fade away. It's undoubtedly a personal, purely subjective take on something that won't sound the same way to any of a thousand other listeners. The song isn't a living, breathing, organism, no matter how much it sounds like it could and should be. And that is, among the many other successes on the album, a credit to the very construction of the record itself.

Sufficed to say, I'm not nearly as good at my job as Mario and Sarah Quintero are at theirs. Their music speaks in ways that most never could, and I doubt that's an opinion limited to the Sorrow Eternal family. Those living in The States have likely seen the recent ad campaign for the streaming service Pandora, where music lovers are asked to listen to a song and answer one simple question: "Tell me how this song make you feel." The responses range from tears to pure joy to "short of breath, in a good way." That one ad spot probably says more about Tidals than one or ten or one hundred reviews ever could. It's bold and boisterous, it's soft and malleable, and beautiful beyond beauty. I don't know the recipe for making an album like that come to life, but like a lot of things in the modern musical renaissance, we can look to Brooklyn for answers.


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