Niño Koi – La Pequeña Muerte – 94%

La pequeña muerte cover art

One of the greatest things to me about the ever-expanding genre of post-rock is the seemingly nonstop discovery of new bands. In most cases, they’re not even really “new”, just new to my ears. Case in point, Costa Rica’s Niño Koi, and their newest release, “La Pequeña Muerte”. Being wholly ignorant of any post-rock scene in Latin America/Central America at all, this an absolutely wonderful discovery.  One of the main things you’ll notice about this album (their third, as far as I can tell) is the bass. Not that it’s overpowering in any way, but that the songwriting is done in such a way that the bass is often it’s own instrument. Bassist Chris Robinson doesn’t necessarily always follow along with the drums, and even when he does, the bass sound stands out. This is a really nice touch to me, and reminds me a bit of Maserati, in that regard.

These guys are definitely on the “rock” end of post-rock, rather than the familiar ambience of most post-rock albums. That’s not to say those elements don’t exist here, because they certainly know how to create a mood, it’s just that when it comes down to it, Niño Koi really know how to rock. The opening track, “El Último Rey de Talamanca”, starts with a very spiritual feeling, in the form of a wind instrument that I can’t quite put my finger on (didgeridoo?), then a stomping beat courtesy of drummer Fabrizio Durán. The bass and guitars join in, briefly sounding like an ode to Joy Division before as the distortion and speed pick up, before an explosion of cymbals and drums really kicks things into motion. The stops and starts present in this track really show that Niño Koi fully understand how to work well with space and volume, using both to great effect. Chanting and further wood instruments, this time in the distance, lead into the following track, “Unio Naturalis”, which starts out energetic though pleasant, and leads into a frenzied cacophony of guitars, bass, and drums before finally calming down into a beautiful melody, as though you were waking from a nightmare. The final part of the first act of the album (the album itself is broken up into three parts, via the brief interludes “I” and “II”) is  “¿Adónde Está la Noche?”, a track that makes great use of some of the “traditional” post-rock elements by crafting a pleasant, bright scene which segues nicely into the first interlude.

The next act begins with “Giulietta Guicciardi”, which is easily the most “post-rock” sounding song on the album, to me. It’s a beautiful track, named for the Austrian countess and one time student to whom Ludwig van Beethoven dedicated his “Piano Sonata No. 14”, featuring several samples of a woman speaking in French, which fit in rather nicely with the feel of the track. As the song draws to an end, things begin to seem a bit darker, concluding with ringing bells that carry a rather ominous feeling.  The top track on the album for me, “Mátalos a Todos”, starts with a wave of feedback, a Charles Manson sample, and a solid, driving drum line, and delves into a rather somber mood, with a sparse bass line and clean, jangly guitars, before picking back up a violent intensity that is accompanied by air raid siren like guitars. An explosive barrage of drums and guitars follows, briefly bordering on a post-metal chug, just before slowing back down, without losing any intensity, into a wail of fuzz-laden guitars. It’s a really well crafted song, and the abilities of the band are displayed here magnificently.

The next track, “3:00 A.M.” starts off with heavily distorted feedback and a driving bass line, that when layered with the spoken prayer, really serve to create an eerie mood, the kind that you’d more expect to be found on a metal album. This feeling continues throughout the track, with some really dark piano notes, joined by some frantic sounding guitar. It seems almost like something that would grace the score of a horror film, and really leads you to think that this was crafted with some sort of scenario in mind. Think running through the woods, chased by some unseen presence. Good stuff.

“El Sueño de la Razón” follows, and has an almost schizophrenic sound – the instruments are occasionally joined by bursts of electronics, which, when combined, create a strange, uneasy feeling. Given the title of the song, I can’t help but think that it’s inspired by the Francisco Goya carving, “El Sueño de la Razón Produce Monstruos”, or, “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters”. If you’re familiar with the artwork, or do a quick search for it, this piece makes for a good companion. While not as heavy as the preceding track, it’s every bit as dark. “Pequeña París” makes for a great album closer, starting off well organized and calm, and devolving into occasional frenzied bursts of guitar and drums, before ultimately winding everything down. Guitarists Mauricio Fonseca and Federico Salas really do some great work with the usage of effects on this track, and it’s a really excellent example of how to close out an album.

Ultimately, Niño Koi have created an incredible album, and have more than proved themselves worthy of notice on the world stage. I’m delighted to have discovered them, and am really looking forward to what the future holds for these wonderfully talented musicians.

Availabile for $1 (or free, through a band-provided link) on their bandcamp page – http://ninokoi.bandcamp.com/