The Morakestra - Witness to Connection
Record Label: Stratking Records
Release Date: June 1, 2009
El Paso musician Jim Ward needs no introduction. His work with post-hardcore group At the Drive In, alternative country supergroup Sleepercar and indie powerhouse Sparta have kept him at the forefront of the Texas indie music scene for the better part of the last decade. The fate of his production work though remains to be seen. That might change this June. Working alongside multi-faceted musician Gabe Gonzalez, the tandem has produced their first major release, Witness to Connection, the sophomore album from El Paso's The Morakestra.
Founded and anchored by twin brothers Will and David Mora, The Morakestra has been kicking it in and around Austin and El Paso for the last few years. Their career finally took off in the summer of 2007 when the duo released their debut Live from Moraq. Utilizing the talents of Robert Palmer drummer Donnie Wynn, Eric Johnson bass player Chris Maresh and the Tosca String Quartet, the duo did what they could to keep word of mouth strong and toured when it allowed. In between gigs they assembled random musicians and tried to find a solid lineup. This past winter they went to work on what would become Witness to Connection.
Influenced by singer/songwriter Sara Bareilles, the album is heavily focused on emotion and intimacy, with many of the songs coming from personal experience and situations. Will and David are fortunate in that their voices are somewhat analogous and the songs all seem to fit within the same framework. Nothing feels alien or indistinct, rather it all fits like a pattern. It should be worth nothing that The Morakestra are first and foremost a guitar band and their angular and jagged riffs prove such. The most notable of the album's first six songs are the hook-based "Tell You Something," and the frenzied "Tonight." The crestfallen "Goodbye," allows David the chance to sing and it's something the band should do more often.
There's no way around it, David's voice is far more commanding, with an eerie and evocative timbre that's alarming and arresting and seems to demand attention. Though Will does shine in a few places ("Butterfly," "English Channel"), he doesn't seem to have the edge or the skills to push his vocals to the forefront and instead allows the music to take centerstage in each one of his songs. This isn't a grave mistake, nor is it a demerit, instead it's all just a bit underwhelming. When Will returns on the gloomy and despondent "Sunshine," he manages to take a song with dark and moody sentiments and make it something worth remembering. For all the album's peaks, it's comes at the end. Banjo-fueled closer "Different Names" is arguably the most complete song the band has released thus far; and the jangly, sun-drenched "Perfect Memory," is wholly infectious and highly memorable.
The biggest problem with Witness to Connection is the length. Clocking in at 32 minutes it's a terse and concise collection that's far too fleeting and brief. While brevity can sometimes work wonders, it can also distort and skewer. Take for example, the roaring guitar solo at the end of "Space Bar," which is only heard for all of 25 seconds before the song fades out and ushers in "Goodbye." The bristle and the grit of the solo is one of the album's finer moments and having it end so abruptly is unfortunate and a classic misstep. That same proclivity to fade out before all is said and done reoccurs a few more times before the disc ends and next to Will's vocals, it's the only real major flaw here.
All in all, the key to The Morakestra is their lack of pretense and their apparent love for what they do. In all the nuances and intricacies, their passion and conviction is evident and it's a trait worn proudly by most of the El Paso music scene. There's nothing disturbing, alienating or hokey about any of this. Though they are a good bit away from joining the ranks of Sleepercar, Sparta, The Mars Volta or At The Drive-In, they are another notch in the much-vaulted El Paso music scene. Score another for West Texas.
2. Tell You Something
4. Space Bar
7. English Channel
10. Perfect Memory
11. Different Names[/fs}