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Meta Four

Havalina: Space, Love & Bullfighting

Listen to this album on Grooveshark.

I'm not dead yet!

As mentioned in the last non-Christmas entry, the peoples Havalina decided they wanted to make a Latin music album. But then they listened to one of David Byrne's Latin albums, figured they'd never be able to do something as good, reasoned that their albums always end up as "What the hell is this?" fusions anyway regardless of the original intentions, so they decided to shoot for "What the hell is this?" from the get-go. Hence space-age pop meets Latin music.

There's even a timeline of sorts on the back cover to tie everything together.
  • 1930: Pluto discovered by American astronomer Clyde W. Tombaugh at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, AZ.
  • 1943: Documented UFO crash in Roswell, New Mexico.
  • 1957: Russian dog Leica (or Laiko, which means "bark" in Russian) is sent into space with food and water and no way home. He dies four days later when the cabin overheats.*
  • 1963: A boy is born in Madrid, Spain, who grows up to be a mediocre bullfighter in Mexican bullrings.
  • 1967: Hippies celebrate the Summer of Love in the Pacific coastal town of San Francisco.
  • 1969: Neil Armstrong says to a listening world: "One small step for man — one giant leap for mankind."
  • 1984: Mediocre bullfighter is beat and humiliated at Tijuana's Plaza Monumental on the Pacific coast.
  • 1985: The bullfighter casts himself from the highest building he can find.
  • 1995: A young girl falls into real love for the first time.
  • 1999: National news in America announces that there is skepticism regarding Pluto's planethood.
  • 2000: Girl falls out of love and realizes that just as Pluto may be rocks and steam, so was her 5-year relationship.

Fun stuff.

As for the roster, it's pretty much the same as on the prior EP. Starry Dynamo is gone and Mercedes Stevens has taken her place, except I also found one review online claiming that Starry was actually Mercedes' pseudonym. Seems plausible, but I can't find anything to confirm it. In any case, in addition to singing and playing guitar, Mercedes plays cello on a few tracks.

So, for you readers who have been following along at home, can you name the members of Havalina who appeared on this album? I can't.

Also worth mentioning is that the Latino All-Stars for this album include Steve Hodges on percussion on darn near every track.

I recall reading some interviews where Matt Wignall said he wanted this to be a more accessible, "pop" album, and they definitely succeeded at that. Mostly.

"Space and Mexico": The first track starts things off with a kick. If you listened to the Bullfighter EP, then there's few surprises here. The sound quality is a bit cleaner, and most of the lyrics are now in English, but otherwise the song is identical. I prefer this version.

"Losing You": A mid-tempo but smoldering Latin rock track. Duet vocals!

"Leica": Allegedly this is about the dog Laika, but it seems more like it's about loneliness and insanity. Short and weird.

Speaking of Laika, the other wiki says that the scientists who sent her into space planned for her to die. There were no safety measures in place for her to survive re-entry; if she hadn't accidently died from the cabin overheating, a poisoned serving of food would have euthanized her. One of the Soviet scientists involved, Oleg Gazenko, had this to say about the whole affair (well afterwards, in 1998):
The more time passes, the more I'm sorry about it. We shouldn't have done it... We did not learn enough from this mission to justify the death of the dog.

"Pluto": And here we're in full-on space pop mode, with bubbling synths and a singalong chorus. Catchy as heck. Also note that this album came out in 2002, back when the demotion of Pluto to dwarf planet was just being debated. Havalina was ahead of the curve: "Not quite a planet and not quite steam / Pluto's caught right in between".

"I Feel Nothing": Short and not so weird. A fast rock song with some noise.

"You Got Me Cry'n": Dave's farfisa really carries this song. Big change from the EP version: gone is the four minutes of solo instrumentals featured in the original song's bridge.

"Rocket Ship": This reminds me of the B-52's. A lot.

As for the lyrics: The reason you can't have a rocketship is because do you have any idea how hard it is to get licensed to operate one?

"Worst Days": Heck yes. What is this, country-reggae? Whatever it is, I love it. Another fine entry in the category of depressing music that makes you feel better when you actually are in your Darkest Hour (I'm speaking from experience here). That farfisa is lovely.

"If You'd Like": The strings on this one are kinda half-hearted. Play them louder or don't play them at all, don't give me this anemic crap. The rest of the song is good; those drums sound cavernous.

"Bullfighter": I guess this is supposed to be a sort of mariachi song, but not really. (They've got an upright bass instead of a guitarrón, so it don't count.) The trumpet player on this track is named Paul Justice.

WMG: The vinyl version of A Bullfigher's Guide to Space and Love EP (which I don't own) has an extra 30-second song named "The Abduction of the Bullfighter". The lyrics of this song never specify that the bullfighter actually died, just that he "went up to the highest roof and flew away." Clearly, then, the bullfighter jumped off the roof, intending to kill himself, but was snatched up by a UFO in midair. Doubtlessly he went on to have all kinds of wacky adventures elsewhere in the galaxy.

''Carlos": A sensual bossa nova number, with Mercedes handling all vocals. Also features the return of Nathan Jensen on the sax.

"Spaces and Places": The track starts off with noise, then after a minute it begins resolving itself into a normal song.

I bought this album when I was young and stupid, so I really couldn't appreciate several tracks, most notably this one. Within about a year, something had changed in my brain and I found myself appreciating a lot more music. I realized something was up when I re-listened to this song and found it strangely hopeful.

"Space, Love, and Bullfighting Suite": Remember when I said that Havalina wanted to make this their more accessible, poppy album? Haha NO. This final song is divided into five parts, each composed by a different band member:
  • "Powerful Mexi Radio" by Matt Wignall. Theremin solo!
  • "That Bohemian Music" by Dave Maust: a spoken word portrait of modern-day monastery life, over a wurlitzer solo. It then segues into a western-sounding wurlitzer bit with violin, which then segues to...
  • "Untitled" by Erick Diego Nieto. Erick gets the violin solo he was denied on the rest of this album.
  • "Space Cabana" by Mercedes Stevens: Tim Stevens (a relative of Mercedes, presumably) plays acoustic guitar and makes bird calls, with some other ambient background effects. For me, it calls to mind a UFO hovering over a South American rainforest.
  • "The Other World is Present" by Orlando Greenhill. And this part sounds like aliens chasing you through the aforementioned rainforest. Listening to this, it makes perfect sense that Orlando joined the free-jazz group Create(!).
Apparently the peoples Havalina extracted most of the weirdness out of the rest of the album and crammed it all into this very last track. Thus, this album starts with Havalina's most accessible work and ends with the single strangest thing they've ever recorded to tape.

None of the band members realized it at the time, but this would be Havalina's swan song, at least as far as official releases go. Mercedes left to front a crappy punk band named Miss Jupiter, I think. Matt Wignall began writing another album, but the recording got held up for various reasons. Orlando Greenhill decided to leave the band, so Matt brought in Erick Diego Nieto's brother (oddly enough, named Orlando Nieto) to replace him. Matt retired the Havalina name, christening this group Matt Death & the New Intellectuals, and announced that Matt Death would release Havalina's final, not-quite-finished album.

That was back in 2006. No album yet. But that doesn't mean we're done with Havalina just yet...

If you only listen to one song, listen to: "Worst Days".


Upon further thought, I don't think Starry Dynamo and Mercedes Stevens are the same person. Starry's vocals in the acoustic version of "Worst Days" sounds too different from Mercedes' vocals in "Losing You" and "Carlos".
MetaFour 19th May 11