John Maestas’ vision for Juan Tigre will not be for everyone. If you like your music straight-up 4/4 rock of some variety with the typical lead singer, guitar (maybe two), bass, and drum setup or some variation thereof, turn back now. You’ll hear guitar during Tigre’s second album Azúl Arriba, Blue Below, but it isn’t riffing away or peeling the walls with a 90 miles per hour solo. Other familiar instruments appear, vanish, then reappear again. His vision for the album’s eleven tracks is fluid, inimitable, and remarkably accessible.
Even casual music fans will find everything they expect from “typical” pop songs in these electronically driven instrumentals. Keyboards of various persuasion, synths, and other pre-programmable sounds are rife throughout the collection, but there’s traditional instruments as well. They are invariably filtered, however, through an assortment of effects. It’s possible listening to this album to hear how malleable Tigre’s writing is. You could recast these tracks several different ways and still have quality material.
It’s challenging yet easy to follow. There are natural segues between the tracks and you hear this early. The opening trio of “Awake (New Beginnings)”, “Hi Tide”, and “Sink In” flow into one another without any hiccups and do an excellent job of setting the stage for the album’s first lengthier track. “New Beginnings”, obviously related to the album opener, doesn’t rely on music alone to capture listener’s attention. The gentle sound of singing birds runs through the track though it’s never omnipresent.
“Dream of Pink and Purple” is one of the standout moments on the album. There’s few moments on Azúl Arriba, Blue Below anyone will label as outright nebulous, but this track has a surer sense of structure than many of its counterparts. It plumbs layers of emotion, as well, with a measured certainty that only a select few tracks on this release share. It isn’t a slight to say that, however. “Dream of Pink and Purple” sets the bar higher than most, but there’s not a single moment on this album you’d call filler.
Tigre sustains this level of excellence. The longest cut on Azúl Arriba, Blue Below, “Cielo del Desierto”, has an almost sacred aura emanating from the arrangement that’s highly appropriate. The song’s title translates into “The Desert Sky” and such landscapes are an integral part of Juan Tigre’s musical vision without ever overpowering listeners. The orchestration of this track has a quiet, expansive beauty like nothing else on the release.
Tigre closes the album with the almost imperceptible touch “Cloud Sailing” leaves on listeners. It has a near-translucent arrangement that’s augmented with the steady sound of oars lapping through the water; the latter addition has a hypnotic effect. It’s a final bold move on a release full of boldness. It doesn’t figuratively beat its chest or attempt to blow listeners away. Instead, Juan Tigre establishes its vision early on and invites anyone willing to follow along. It’s an imaginative and deeply felt ride through John Maestas’ world and one you’ll likely welcome taking again and again.