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Esta Vivo

Carry You To My Mouth

[Mush; 2013]

By ; May 6, 2013 

Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

In this day and age, demos are a strange thing to present to listeners. It still happens now, but years (if not decades) back, you’d find record label mail boxes full of bands and artists sending in demo tapes or CDs, waiting to be heard and in most cases, to be signed by the label so as to get the opportunity to spruce up the talent on offer. But with music’s “instant” appeal nowadays, you find musicians either creating full-fledged tracks and albums with what they have at hand, if not simply presenting themselves as someone who uses the limits of their recording equipment as a style choice (i.e. lo-fi, etc). There’s still a place for demos, especially if you want to allow fans to hear an idea in its original stage, or if compiling a deluxe package of an album so as to get the full picture of the creative processes behind it.

But for musicians to present a set of demos to a wide audience is rarer these days. Está Vivo isn’t doing that with his debut release on Mush Records, but it’s easy to leave the four-track Carry You To My Mouth EP and feel like you’ve heard something that’s not full realised. This stems from the simple fact that Ryan McMahon – the name behind Está Vivo – doesn’t go for lots of layers in his tracks here. Opening track “Sweet Tooth” has a fuzzy guitar riff that plays on from Menomena’s “TAOS,” and on that you’ve got some low-lying bass, drums, and voice. Come the latter half he sprinkles a sort of fluttering synth effect into everything, but otherwise that’s it. For many that would be fine (artists have made careers out of that combination of instruments, if not less than that), but it all feels strangely blank, like it’s aching for more. Even though it’s busier and lighter in tone, following track “Smile Back” suffers the same fate. It’s probably the most instantly appealing thing here, with jangly little guitar riffs and little doses of McMahon acting as his own backing vocalist, coming off like an adapted Craft Spells song, or something of that ilk. Yet it feels like it’s missing an injection of some vital substance that makes it its own thing so as to make a clearer imprint on your mind and stand out in the crowd more clearly.

With regard to the argument that it doesn’t feel like enough, I realise that it’s not my place to say what is and what’s not enough (though it’s usually easy to identify when someone has gone overboard), but the aforementioned tracks, and the two that follow on Carry You To My Mouth, feel helplessly like they are waiting for a moment to happen. The tracks follow normal procedures, going from verse to chorus then bridges and so forth, but even when they hit their crescendos, they aren’t making much more noise than they did a minute or so before. It may well have been McMahon’s decision to stop the layering where he has (or it could just be a recording limitation from using a four-track tape recorder of something of that sort), but it doesn’t come off like a particularly good decision.

The EP does offer one moment of intrigue, but it comes off more baffling than anything else. “My Thing” sounds worryingly like it’s a miniature version of Sigur Rós’ beautifully epic “Viðrar vel til loftárása,” with stately piano and strings that are spiralling away on the other side. In a way it’s great that he’s managed to capture a particular sound so well, and when it’s lifting itself up, it sounds like it’s got everything it needs happening inside, but at the same time, he doesn’t sound entirely comfortable in it; his voices reverberates into the space between the strums of guitar, like he’s kind of lost. Minute-long final track “Green Thumb” keeps the strings, adding some birdsong into the picture, but otherwise it’s a brief and forgettable little finale.

If this is just McMahon testing the waters, and seeing what he fits into best, then that’s fine; this short EP is good at showing a few paths he could travel down, but it notably feels like he’s still at the first stages, still waiting in the wings and creating sketches before venturing outwards. And this is odd since McMahon has been releasing music for a few years now that before seemed relatively comfortable in place between Animal Collective’s acoustic moments and Devendra Banhart’s unhurried periods. On Carry You To My Mouth, it sounds like there’s the outline of a personality wanting to seep through the music here, but it never really comes to light. Perhaps with time he’ll reveal himself more clearly with more or less instrumentation but until then, he’ll remain sounding like he’s answering his own question as posed on “Sweet Tooth”: “Is that just me being watered down?” When listening to this EP, it seems hard to reply anything other than yes to that.


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