Los Angeles based label Friends of Friends are releasing the debut album from South Californian producer and experimental guitarist Mark Nieto, who records an eclectic mix of atmospheric tracks under the moniker COMBAT!.
Each of the tracks on his debut are effortlessly layered with an array of ideas, samples and live instruments that blend into a beautiful wash of sound. The rhythmic elements are a highlight of this record with many of the tracks building upon layers of funk or even African influenced percussion. The opening track “Jacaranda” builds into an energetic mix of sampled vocal ambience and poly-rhythms as a multitude of percussion instruments arrive over the deep bass tones that establish the groove of this track. There is even a fantastic kalimba like instrument that arrives to dance around the four on the floor kick drum rhythm. It is the perfect opener to introduce the listener to COMBAT! and highlights some of the themes that are explored throughout the rest of the record. The following track “Heavy Accent” is a highlight and is built around busy live percussion shrapnel that stumbles over itself into a solid groove and some stellar electric guitar work. The slow sweeping feedback layers low in the mix add a great underlying drone to this track and allow for the guitars to really soar as the track progresses into the drifting climax of reverse guitar ambience. These first two tracks offer a stunning mix of captivating sounds that while heavily layered, never feel cluttered as the variety of different textures fill your headphones.
“Olive Skin” recalls the deep vibes of 70s funk with its opening funky groove and Roy Ayers meets Flying Lotus atmosphere that features a heavy bass drone and warped Middle Eastern flute like synth work. This track also features an impressive mix of avant-garde sound design and synth textures that give it an experimental cinematic feel before it builds into a beautiful synth arpeggio layered outro that will truly put a smile on your face with its bright melodies. This is the debut from Mark Nieto, but these three tracks show an impressive amount of skill as he navigates between different styles and moods as the songs unfold. Rhythms have been a showcase so far on the record but the superb sound collage of “We Were Golden” shows the more restrained side of this project and provides a highlight that can be just as emotive. With its sweeping string arrangements and layers of found sound samples that swell into a blast of percussion, this is one of the most beautiful pieces on this release. This track is simply breathtaking to listen to and is guaranteed to give you chills. The echoing voices float you into the next track “Days of Dust” that brings the layers of tribal percussion back into the front of the mix and features some amazing dynamic guitar work as well as distorted keys. These parts are unique yet are always a welcome melodic addition to the tracks.
“Avron” gradually reveals itself to be one of the most beautiful tracks on the record with a high Sigur Ros like falsetto vocal harmony blending into the sustained organ like tones and chiming feedback. The arrangement and emotions expressed are impressive as the layers drift in with reverse harmonic tones also adding another layer of beauty. This track envelopes you with its entrancing vocals and provides the listener an introspective moment before the psychedelic workout of “The Firefall and the Temple”. This track announces its arrival with a deep cavernous blast and busy prog rock bass line around a free flowing percussion jam. Over the three and half minute duration this track takes you on an energetic journey through a dizzying mix of ethereal sounds, shifting atmospheres and brilliant guitar work. This track along with many others on this record offers a dynamic mix of ideas for the ears to explore and you’ll likely discover new details with each listen. The dark groove and mood of “Open and Close the Globe” contains some of the most experimental guitar work on this debut release. This track is built around some fantastic low pitched octave riffs, call and response stereo pick scrapes as well as a deep sludgy distorted bass riff. There is a lot of ambient sound design to behold on this track, but the interplay of the guitars brings to mind a progressive or math rock influence. Those influences are also evident on the closing track “Sun Crawl” that features a great experimental mix of delayed guitar work and distorted reverse effects. The ambient guitar layers carry the tune along with a heavily modulated vocal sample that slowly grows into a huge climax of snare drum blasts, noisy guitar shrapnel and a wash of cymbal crashes that provide a great closing piece. This is an impressive release with several standout tracks that effortlessly manages to avoid feeling cluttered even during its most layered moments. This debut from Mark Nieto hopefully only hints at what is to come from his dynamic COMBAT! project and is a highly recommended listen for fans of forward thinking art.
COMBAT!’s debut self-titled LP is out September 16 on Friends of Friends