Emerging from the swirling mists and forbidding fogs in the DMZ between shoegaze and grunge, Chilean outfit Maff reach for their bricks and mortar to build another stunning wall of sound on new ep 'Melaniña'. Inspired by frontman Ricardo Gomez’s first child Augusta, the ep title combines the word ‘melanin’ with ‘niña’ – Spanish for little girl – to pay tribute to the fact that Augusta is slightly albino.
The record’s opening flourish, ‘Act Two’, shoulders the burden of introducing its IMAX-scale atmospherics easily, a captivating slice of instrumentalism that builds from a stripped-down guitar riff into a heart-racing roar which stays delicate and somehow poignant through great swells of buzzing guitars and glacial reverbs.
It’s precisely this sense of rising and falling which gives the ep such depth, and nowhere is the band’s use of layers laid bare as artfully as on current single ‘Hawaii’, where relatively sparse bass-led verses open out into huge swells of sound. It’s not quite an instrumental, but the vocals are mixed well down in an echo soup so this isn’t really one for sing-alongs, and for most of the readers of this review neither is ‘Desfile’, the Chilean group’s first Spanish-language single. Its another exercise in light and shade, and it is remarkable how soft Maff’s touch can be when they want to back all the way off in an otherwise strident song.
The most straight-ahead tune on this record is joyous finale ‘Appear’. The track is a real display of songwriting prowess, a blood-pumping race through verses full of promise into an ever-expanding chorus, the song one constant build to a euphoric moment where the band cut out and we hear, fleetingly and for the first time, Gomez’s voice standing tall and proud on its own before the band come crashing back in to round off the ep in considerable style.
But for a record so closely tied to dynamic shifts and intricate layers it’s only right that for all the contracting muscles elsewhere there is a release, and that comes in the form of full-body exhalation ‘Deserts Are Rainbows’, an outward breath so complete it almost falls asleep. Waves of gently reverbed instrumentation wash over a hypnotic bassline, and it’s only two-thirds of the way in that the drums kick in in earnest. The dreamlike trance was inevitable, and is excellently executed in its own right, but particularly as a warm-down before the boisterous ‘Appear’.
Melaniña is a thing of unexpected beauty, always powerful but never overpowering, which is a fine line to tread when dealing in such high-risk materials as gigantic swells of fuzzy guitar and mountains of reverb. In the wrong hands this is a recipe for stifling, leaden self-indulgence, but clearly the Chilean group was born to bear such responsibility and does so excellently.
Words - Joe Ponting
Melaniña is out on April 6th