Local Love: Ak’chamel
Ak’chamel, Photo: Jet Liam
I don’t think anyone who’s heard Houston’s Ak’chamel would describe their sound as anything mainstream. Last year they kind of popped up on the Houston music landscape with a VHS release called “My Form Has Been Extinguished,” and they’ve dropped seven more releases since. They got on my radar by both B L A C K I E and John Baldwin bringing them to my attention, and they were both on to something…that Ak’chamel is pretty intense and mesmerizing. In July of this year, they released a full length, “The Man Who Drank God” and unfortunately I’m just getting to it now. However the sounds within are nothing close to anything you’ve heard before, and definitely not like anything else in Houston.
The album contains twelve offerings, many of which aren’t over the two minute mark. The tracks kind of blend together to form an overall vibe rather than individual songs. The opener, “I Take Nothing” begins with an archaic drum beat met with varying vocals in the background and a loud guitar track. The song comes off as more of a tribal chant than anything else. Because of the nature of the recording, the vocals are never evident as to what they’re saying; though I think that’s the point. This is followed by the trippy and multi-instrument fed sounds of “Rainmaking.” The strange method used again where there are chant like vocals that are unintelligible in the background with varied instrumentations in your face is pretty insane. The third track, “He Who Swallowed The Universe” has more of a melodic feel with a drum beat that feels like it’s being played by a caveman while these choppy vocals dance in the background. All of it sounds like what tripping on shrooms while waking up to find out that you’ve joined a cult must be like.
The more grandiose opening to “Kume Piuke” is a flowing mixture of piano, vocals, and electronics that feel like they’re channeling sounds from a distant planet. However that opening, is pretty much what the song is. It’s one thought that stays the same from start to finish without being fully fleshed out, though the fact that it’s so different makes your attention stay focused on it. Around the fifth track, “There Is No Cure,” you realize that you aren’t really going to get anything close to what your mind relates to that of a traditional song. The native percussion, the dulcid guitar tones, and the spaced out vocals on the track have more of what a song feels like sensibility; but it’s not what most would consider what a song is. The same could be said about the sixth song, “Nam Nogaw” and the seventh, “Creation,” but that’s the beauty of it all. None of it is what you’ve come to expect from an album, and it takes such turns that you never know what’s coming next.
The eighth track however, “Hungry Ghosts” takes the use of multiple percussive sounds, group vocals that sound like they’re falling over one another, and acoustic instrumentation to a whole new place. The eerie nature of the composition sounds like what it must feel like to be kidnapped, where you hear all sorts of things that jumble together into sounds that somehow work in unison. The tenth track has these shaman like verses that sound like a death ceremony on “Jaguar and the Basket.” You want to call it all experimental, yet it feels very direct and purposeful. The eleventh song, “Tlaloc, Full of Sores” feels the most fleshed out from open to close. The use of a grand piano with chanting and god like vocals before falling into what feels like another song is intense. Creepy sounds pierce the piano like arrows from a war that’s never won, a feedback that hops on and off the track, and random percussive stabs all find their way onto the song before it comes to an end. The group ends things with “Ainuuksi Surma (Alone In Death),” and the only thing it even comes close to in comparison would be old slave hymnals sung while working in the fields. The open structure of it all makes you forget that this is new music, and not something from another time and place.
When the album finishes, I would guess that at least part of you would be lost in what you’d just heard. You can call Ak’chamel experimental, you can call it noise, but you can’t call it ordinary. The way in which they blend sounds to craft a feeling of loneliness and inclusion at the same time is something else. I like that it’s so different, so similar and yet so familiar, and that it’s executed in the simplest way possible. Recorded on and released through cassette, Ak’chamel has found a way to do whatever they want and to exist in a world that normally wouldn’t have them. You can see them at Walters on Saturday October 17, when they open the last performance of San Francisco’s Erase Errata. The all ages show has doors at 8:00 and tickets between $8.00 and $10.00.