Formed in Sacramento in 2004, Tera Melos are long-time purveyors of that distinctive, spidery, mathy, Pacific coast sound. Their contemporaries include Hella, Botch, Fall of Troy, Minus the Bear and other members of that fine ilk. Growing up alongside such innovators, and sharing a sonic calling with other bands like Polvo and Don Caballero, Tera Melos have continually made strides in refining and redefining their sound. Along the way, Tera Melos have left signposts of their progress, creating one of those fragmentary, EP-and-split-album-riddled discographies that are as delightful to music scene archaeologist as they are frustrating to casual fans.
And after nearly ten years, minor lineup changes and the phasing in of vocals, Tera Melos have nailed it. On X’ed Out, their third full-length, Tera Melos strike an essential compromise between the summery, slacked-out, intimate vibes of indie rock, the exuberantly technical showmanship of math rock, and the squalling abrasion of post-hardcore. These ingredients have not been blended completely to smoothness, and often butt up against one other in strange juxtaposition. Hear as the subdued Don Caballero-esque intro to “Weird Circles” gives way to a discordant, cymbal-bashing rave-up. Hear the shambling, Polvo-esque verses of “New Chlorine” wrestle handily with the song’s hard-driving choruses.
These sorts of battles crop up all over X’ed Out, and thankfully so. The essential tension between styles keeps the album interesting. The many, often sharp contrasts reveal musicians for all seasons – as comfortable at rest as they are in motion, ready to loudly show off their chops, as on “Slimed”, knead them into easily digested runs of mellifluous grace, as on “Bite”, or simply chill out, as on “No Phase” and “Snake Lake”. There is a joyous sense of compositional freedom on X’ed Out, earned by Tera Melos’ proficiency in the arts of approachability and technicality, pop and math, and charm and aggression.
Due to the harmonious, unruffled vocals, the balance of X’ed Out swings mostly toward charm. The wild noises of the instruments are usually tempered by a breathy, catchy verse or chorus. This could be a deflating prospect, but Tera Melos have engineered a set of songs that are dual-leveled, possessing a candy-shell of pop sensibility, covering a rich sub-layer of vigorous, melodic basslines, exuberant, intricately detailed drumming and acrobatic guitar parts that chime, charm, ring, wobble and dance.
Nearly ten-years in, Tera Melos have accomplished a feat that many musicians can only dream about – creating an album where everybody wins. Fans of pop and indie rock can delight in the smooth vocals and rambling, not-too-serious tone of X’ed Out. Fans of aggressive music will dig the roughness at the edges of many of the songs, and there is more than enough complexity here to keep math-rock fans happily confounded through many, many listens. One naturally hopes that Tera Melos will settle into this well-earned groove and continue to make hay. Then again, evolution has worked for the band before, so if they decide on another significant shift, who is to say that it won’t yield even more fantastic results.