Underground scenes across all styles of music have a tendency to harbour the more experimental offshoots of any given genre, whilst often exposing the through-lines that may exist between stylistic principles that were previously perceived to be incompatible. Indeed, without the confines that come with pursuing a conventional sound, underground scenes have continuously been used as workshops for artists to test the boundaries of certain styles, bringing to life musical Frankenstein’s monsters by piecing together odds and ends of any array of genres, without having to give much thought as to how such musical mutants would be perceived by the casual music listener. Upon their conception, the original objective of Chilean five-piece Como Asesinar a Felipes was exactly this, with the group specifically tying together jazz, hip hop and rock ever since the release of their self-titled debut from 2008. Como Asesinar a Felipes’ subsequent release catalogue has simply worked to refine this core composite, whilst the band have toyed with bells and whistles, in the form of orchestral components and guest musicians, in order to test what this collision of styles is capable of. It should be said, however, that although rock, rap and jazz have existed in close proximity to one another in the past, with rap rock, jazz-fusion and jazz rap all being well-established genres in their own right, Como Asesinar a Felipes’ approach to synthesising these styles differs greatly from what fans of these genres may have come to expect. The group’s rock influences, for instance, have routinely assumed a psychedelic tinge and progressive structure — which only makes sense, given that Como Asesinar a Felipes have specifically cited the rock music of the 1970s as a key source of inspiration — thus differing substantially from the conventional compositional formulas of much rap rock and jazz rap, with the clear cues taken from 60s hard bop and avant-garde jazz artists, such as Ornette Coleman, Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane, reinforcing this experimental edge. The progressive and psychedelic side to Como Asesinar a Felipes’ sound has gradually moved more and more to the forefront of their stylings, especially due to the more recent addition of dark synth textures to their set-up, and nowhere is this more palpable than on their sixth and most recent record, Elipse. Although comprised of the same core components as much of Como Asesinar a Felipes’ past material, Elipse takes the form of a single piece, divided into three movements and six tracks, and spread across 37 minutes of material. As such, this record really tests the stamina of the group and the strength of their sound like no previous album of theirs has done, with the semi-rapped, semi-spoken performance style of frontman Koala Contreras assuming perhaps its most free-form state to date. With Elipse being the second record from Como Asesinar a Felipes to feature Billy Gould behind the production desk, the group’s sound certainly comes across as guided in its chimeric and slightly more improvised nature. After all, Gould himself is no stranger to experimenting with genre fusions, with his band, Faith No More, having brought amalgamations of funk, metal, rock, rap, jazz and soul to a mainstream audience with the smorgasbord of styles brandished on albums like King for a Day… Fool for a Lifetime. Ultimately, the end result is a record that feels focussed in its somewhat free-form disposition, as is exemplified by the way in which the traditional jazz essence of tension and release manifests itself across this single composition. Ultimately, therefore, Elipse continues to show Como Asesinar a Felipes hone their style, whilst nevertheless putting in that extra effort to expand its reach, making their artistic growth all the more enrapturing.
If any element of Elipse is going to grab the listener right from the onset, it would surely be the spirit of the album, which could be said to straddle the line between the improvisational, free-form nature of jazz and the vigour and attitude of punk, more so than any previous record from Como Asesinar a Felipes. With regards to the jazz components of the album, Elipse certainly seems to pull more from the later, avant-garde phases of musicians such as Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane, as is evidenced by the more complex and mutative percussive patterns employed on cuts like the opening track, Interior (Parte I), whilst the swirling melodies and hypnotic rhythms emanating from Cristián Gallardo’s saxophone playing on this song also evoke more contemporary jazz innovators, such as Colin Stetson. On the punk side of things, although Contreras’ fiery diatribes have retained a definitive punk edge to them throughout the group’s career, in a way that almost makes the vocalist come across as the Spanish-speaking equivalent to Sleaford Mods‘ Jason Williamson, a punk — and particularly post-punk — ethos shines through on Elipse more so than at any other point in Como Asesinar a Felipes’ discography. This pure punk angle is most prominent during the riotous climaxes of cuts such as Interior (Parte I), Medio and Exterior (Parte III), whilst the band’s newfound post-punk flavour is most pungent in the use of rhythm on a track like Interior (Parte I), with the growling bass and mesmerising drum groove locking together in a way that really packs a punch. What’s most significant about both the heightened emphasis on the more avant-garde offshoots of jazz and this adoption of punk and post-punk sensibilities is how smoothly these two styles are brought together, as well as how naturally this combination is blended into Como Asesinar a Felipes’ already diverse stylistic palette. Interior (Parte I) has been mentioned several times already, but for good reason, as it epitomises just how seamlessly the group manage to attune these stylistic touchstones. This is particularly true of the rhythm section, with the gradual alterations in the slightly offbeat drumming pattern evoking the rhythmic nuances and intricacies of experimental jazz, whilst the way in which the drums rigidly interlock with the minimal groove of the meaty bass firmly reinforces the track’s fierce, post-punk bite. Of course, all of this occurs whilst Gallardo’s swirling saxophone licks are embellished with all sorts of chorus and echo effects, to the point that his sax could very well be mistaken for a synth at times. In fact, given that Gallardo is a new addition to Como Asesinar a Felipes, having been recruited by the band in lieu of their long-running keyboardist since his departure, using these effects on the saxophone seems to be one way in which the group is attempting to maintain the psychedelic influence on their sound, which once emanated from the use of spacey synths. In this sense, Gallardo’s saxophone is used to great effect, in that its meandering melodies are allowed to merge into the song’s soundscape, cocooning Contreras’ fervid tirades in a spiral of psychedelic energy, whilst not competing with the vocalist in any way. Ultimately, in spite of some new ingredients working their way into Como Asesinar a Felipes’ melting point of stylistic inspirations, Elipse manages to be perhaps the band’s most sonically cohesive record thus far, with the numerous genres that contribute to its overall sound not simply complementing one another, but also completely fusing with one another in stunningly creative ways.
On top of the stylistic cohesion of Elipse is its cohesion from a compositional perspective. Of course, conceiving an album that is essentially just one continuous piece of music demands a solid sense of compositional fluidity, but this could be said to be even more true for a group like Como Asesinar a Felipes. Stringing together sections that touch on the spontaneity and complexity of jazz, the abrasiveness of punk, the free-form nature and importance of stress and delivery of spoken word poetry and the whimsical textures of psychedelia leave a lot of room for Elipse to become so loose as to come across as disjointed and incoherent, and there could certainly be said to be a few instances in which Como Asesinar a Felipes stray dangerously close to this territory. In particular, with much of Interior (Parte II) and the beginning of Medio favouring light percussion, repetitive bass licks and gently flittering flute improvisation to accompany the myriad spoken word samples, these two tracks can be rather indirect, in a way that will occasionally disrupt an interesting melody or progression in favour of some more samples. These somewhat roundabout passages definitely put a bit of a damper on the momentum of the record, but thankfully, this is built up again rather effectively during the subsequent developments of Medio, particularly as Gallardo breaks out into a wailing saxophone solo, set against the nocturnal tone of the flanging bass, whilst the growing intensity of the drums firmly fortifies the bubbling fervour of Contreras’ vocal delivery, with the use of double-tracking strongly emphasising this climax. Even as the intensity of the track simmers down towards the end of its duration, the way in which the saxophone picks up the flute melody that introduced the piece at the very end, which is supported by some crashing accents, leaves the cut on an eerie cliffhanger that fits comfortably alongside the dark tone of the rest of the track. What this latter half of Medio shows, therefore, is that, although certain sections across Elipse are loose to the point of coming across as rather rambling, the overall impact that this has on the album is minimal, largely due to how successful it is in its pay-off. This well-worked use of tension and release is at its most powerful across the three tracks that comprise the Exterior movement of the record. With Exterior (Parte I) stringing together suspenseful sections of gurgling bass drones, waltzing jazz drumming and billowing saxophone melodies with a prolonged, loose passage of spectral flute improvisation and a patiently crescendoing rhythm section, whilst Exterior (Parte II) maintains this sense of anticipation with the repetition of an unsettling bass lick that is built across its three-minute runtime, the explosive energy that blooms during Exterior (Parte III) is made all the more satisfying. Commencing with a slick groove of jazzy psychedelia, this final cut from Elipse is initially far more direct in its progression, moving swiftly towards the outbreak of Gallardo’s most insane saxophone solo and Contreras’ most unhinged vocal performance across the entire album. This climax is then succeeded by another mini climax that concludes the record, as the vocalist’s delivery falls in line with the punctuated rhythm section, before leaving Elipse hanging on an abrupt ending that immediately diffuses all of the energy built up across the entirety of the album. Indeed, as the Exterior movement forcefully illustrates, although Elipse occasionally attempts to stretch out some somewhat disjointed or underwritten passages of loose tinkering, the pay-off consistently comes through with such potency that the end product is undoubtedly a gratifying one overall, and acts as a testament to how successfully Como Asesinar a Felipes employ their jazz influences across the record.
Throughout their career, Como Asesinar a Felipes have, essentially, continued to whittle down their core combination of jazz, rock and rap to make it as powerful as possible, whilst each album in their back-catalogue has nevertheless brought a new dimension to their sound, meaning that each record from the band sees them both hone their root sound and expand it at the same time. In this sense, Elipse may just be their most successful venture to date. Viewing Elipse purely in the light of its stylistic underpinnings, Como Asesinar a Felipes truly hit the sweet spot when it comes to reconciling the differences between the vast assortment of genres that contribute to their overall sound, to the point that the lines between certain styles become blurred thanks to just how well they are synergised. With the other key facet of Elipse being its fluency as a continuous piece, the success of the album’s dramatic pay-offs circles back to the cohesion of its stylistic foundation, with jazz providing the basis for the record’s use of tension and release, whilst other aspects of the album’s sound, such as its dark psychedelic soundscapes and propulsive post-punk grooves, inject these build-ups with all the suspense and energy that they need to hit at full force. Ultimately, therefore, Elipse seems to be the culmination of all of Como Asesinar a Felipes’ refinement and experimentation thus far in their career, with the result being a riveting display of the dynamic heights that come when fusing genres is done correctly.
The Vinyl Verdict: 7.5/10