Highly Publicized Digital Boxing Match – Afuche
Afuche, made up of Ruben Sindo Acosto on keyboard, Zach Ryalis on guitar, Denny Tek on bass, Andrew Carrico on baritone sax, and Max Jaffe on drums, shows on their album “Highly Publicized Digital Boxing Match” that they are band beyond definition; they have elements of progressive rock, jazz, and rock but there’s a dash of tribal drums in one song, a spice of avant-garde skronking saxophone in another, and just enough catchy cacophony to keep each song interesting. They’re a complex band, breaking the boundaries of rock and roll with sophisticated and esoteric instrumentation while maintaining an approachable and driving energy underneath their music.
Progressive rock gets the unfair generalization as being insular, alienating, and emotionally detached because of the sheer intelligence of the music. Too often progressive rock is seen as the genius nerd of rock music: serious, distant, and awkward in strange company. If stereotypes and generalizations are to believed, progressive rock fans attend live concerts of their favorite bands in a perpetual and unmoving “The Thinker” pose while they squint their eyes and contemplate the music like scientists examining a particularly challenging math equation. In other words, stereotypes lead the listener to believe that “fun” and “progressive rock” are contrasting terms. However, I cannot picture standing still at an Afuche concert, their music is too rich, their drums are too powerful, and their melodies too catchy. Sure, they play music that requires the listener to actively think about what is going on but they’re so appealing that listening to the music inspires physical workout as much as mental exercise. You heard me right: Afuche is a prog band that makes you dance AND think!
Whoever said that you have to understand the lyrics to sing along? Nena and her 99 Luftballoons certainly didn’t. Neither did Rammstein’s Du Hast or the Internet favorite “Dragostea Din Tei” (AKA The Numa Numa Song). Afuche also possesses the power of interlanguage appeal and the few songs on “Boxing Match” that are not pure instrumentals have lyrics that are utter nonsense, incoherent babbling, or a mix of the two but are a blast to sing along to. “Monster Smith” starts with claps, a foot-stomping beat, and “Blah! Obla De So! LA LA!,” or at least that’s what I sing along to. From the first ten seconds of the album, all stereotypes of the stuffy intellectualism of progressive rock are thrown out and replaced with a spontaneous head bobbing that signifies musical pleasure, as if I am nodding, “Yes, yes, yes, I enjoy this, yes.”
Since this is a progressive rock album, within a minute saxophones intrude upon the drums and blart a couple riffs before Afuche goes into a sax solo. The pounding drums give a solid momentum to the song and even the horns start to become enjoyable. Afuche is fond of sprinting off in unexpected musical directions and the listener has to keep on their toes; there are no hints to when Afuche is going to shift into a circular mini-jam with pianos and saxophones beating out the rhythm over a squealing guitar before segueing suddenly back into the original riff of the song. Like the best prog, Afuche make the listener think about the music they are hearing, how the music develops, and where it may be going while always managing to surprise and delight.
Afuche has so much going on in their songs that it’s a bit overwhelming, yet they never degrade into white noise. Each one of their songs is controlled chaos, you see, and it always has enough melody in it to keep the listener rooted and rocking along to a beat. “Who’re They” is a haunting, downbeat song featuring a mournful sax that segues into the frantic drumming and guitar of “They’re In There.” The repetitive sax riff emphasizes the guitar and Afuche get into a groove for most of the song, which is only punctuated by occasional breaks to add a flourish of squealing sax and a drumroll to announce a drop back into the groove. It’s a captivating and trance-inducing song. “Danice Marino” also has a strong groove to it and I enjoy the layered saxophones and bouncy bass throughout the song. This song also features the vocal stylings (“Simba say-o Lea!”) of Merril Garbus, otherwise known as tUnE-yArDs. Garbus’ powerful, unique voice is exciting to hear if you are a big tUnE-yArDs fan such as me but her presence on the track, while very nice, is not that significant.
The song “Here’s to Here’s to Toast” is a muffled build up to the “Here’s to Toast,” which is the most interesting or at least most complex song on the album. It’s nice to see that Afuche has a sense of humor as they muddle with the listener’s mind with flowing musical structures. Indeed, Afuche’s breathtaking musical control is on display for “Here’s to Toast”; they emphasize, support, and build off each other so well that the music fluidly bends from one form to the other. The song starts off with an ominous drum and saxophone beat that transforms into a groaning sax and guitar solo, and then melds back into the original beat without batting an eye. Afuche has so much confidence that the odd time changes and musical shifts of prog seem natural and logical even if I briefly go, “Wait, what? That was weird” for a split second while I bob my head up and down. The climax of “Here’s to Toast” lets the powerful beat build and build until it melts into a skronking sax solo. After the solo, Andrew Carrico introduces the original sax riff and leads the whole band into a jam that is like the beginning of the song but is also very different from the original beat. It’s hard to describe where the music goes or how it got there in the first place but Afuche are adept enough musicians that the listener never feels lost or confused by their shifting sounds.
Afuche are complicated and intelligent without alienating their listeners. Even songs that are heavy on discordant saxophone or a particularly spiky guitar rely on a steady drum beat or underlying melody to pull the listener through difficult musical structures. The circular “Initialone” has a very pretty piano solo right before Afuche goes feet-first into blasts of guitar and rapid drum rolls and Acosto continues to play the piano solo throughout the stereotypical “proggy” section of the song as a way to give the listener a solid foundation of melody that the listener can rely on, while listening to the band play off each other. Then, at the end of the song, Afuche breaks into a choir-like chorus to lend a bit of levity to their next bewildering but appealing break down. “Gulf” slams avant-garde guitar shredding right up next to a salsa beat and “Muscovy’s” patiently builds a circular guitar and piano riff and then adds and subtracts embellishments throughout the song. The last song “Th Sq’d” starts off with a jazz piano solo, evolves to a hip-shaking Cuban beat with swaggering saxophones, dissolves as the guitar and saxophone intertwine, separate, and compliment each other, and then surges into a lively breakdown with vocals.
Afuche are a band that keeps their audience entertained, engaged, and thinking. I’m not surprised at all that they are most known for their live shows; I danced in my chair as I wrote this essay. Afuche are an intelligent band with a sharp sense of humor, swinging, catchy songs, and intelligence that surprises, entices, and mesmerizes.
If you like prog and are feeling a bit adventurous, I recommend buying the album straight from Cuneiform Records and Wayside Music. They’re great people and I’m honored to be able to say I know such hard working people who produce, distribute, and love this kind of music. Without their efforts, off-the-map and interesting music like this may never be made! So, I encourage you to drop a couple bucks and show Javier, Joyce, Steve, and everyone else at Cuneiform that you appreciate their efforts to bring the music they love to everyone. Check them out! Cuneiform Records and Wayside Music