Throwaway Style: Tres Leches Revel in Their Changeable Nature on Amorfo

Throwaway Style, Local Music, Album Reviews
Martin Douglas
photo by Jake Hanson

Throwaway Style is a weekly column dedicated to examining all aspects of the Northwest music scene. Whether it’s a new artist making waves, headlines affecting local talent, or reflecting on some of the music that’s been a foundation in our region; this space celebrates everything happening in the Northwest region, every Thursday on the KEXP Blog.

Tres Leches are a band that dutifully resists easy formula. If you’ve ever been to one of their raucous and fun live sets, you’ve most certainly seen the band’s members – Alaia D’Alessandro, Ulises Mariscal, and Zander Yates – switch out instruments as often as the style of their songs. Logistically and musically, the overall vibe of Tres Leches isn’t necessarily chaotic, rather most certainly bored of routine. The title of the Seattle trio’s debut full-length, Amorfo, translates to amorphous, which is very fitting; the fluidity of their craft leads them down some incredibly interesting musical paths.

Routinely described as post-punk but never stewing in any subgenre long enough to be accurately categorized as anything, the songs on Amorfo jump from impenetrable squall to pogo-inducing pop-rock – sometimes in the same song, like opener “Nueva York.” The song adjusts course on a dime, sung in both English and Spanish (Mariscal was born in Mexico City), and feels like a boulder rolling downhill. Mariscal also takes lead vocals on “Deja De Joder” and single “No Llores,” the former a convivial study in shifting tempos (with a spoken word outro, natch) and the latter containing a guitar line that practically sounds like its sparks are shooting from the fretboard.

A grungy sort of funk guides “Reading Rainbow,” which makes it sound like I’m comparing it to Red Hot Chili Peppers, but honestly, that’s not incredibly far from the truth. Thankfully, Tres Leches are good enough at song structure to where the song doesn’t coast as predictably as a lot of the work of Anthony Kiedis and crew. Though you could say the song sounds like a much, much poppier Fishbone. Ringing guitars cast a harsh trail of light on “I Try,” a spiritual successor of late-period Pixies gathered together with measured drums, a serpentine bassline, and spectral backing vocals in the now-classic “quiet-loud-quiet” songwriting format (courtesy of the aforementioned Pixies).

Just as prevalent of any other aspect of Tres Leches, they’re very much students of the game. Of course there’s the band’s affinity for punk and alternative music, bolstered throughout the course of the album. The “ba-ba’s” crouched in “Nueva York” and the woozy, candied harmonies circling the psychedelic outro of “Doing What Are You/What Are You Doing” – a song powerful in its splintering critique of late-stage capitalism – affirm their pop bona fides. There’s also a ska-leaning cover of Leadbelly’s “Ha-Ha This Away,” which is described as a children’s song but carries a classic bluesman’s sense of hidden trauma (“Mama never whipped me, so I’m told”).

Subversive lyricism weaves throughout Amorfo, challenging the status quo with as much variety as the music has the potential to satisfy omnivorous listeners. You may have heard this before, but in the fraught political and social climate 2018 has brought us, it’s extremely difficult to separate the personal from the political. Though my limited Spanish only allows me to pick out certain words from “Deja De Joder,” “No Llores,” and the first verse of “Nueva York,” the fact these songs are being sung in Spanish is a radical act against our current presidential administration. “Doing What Are You/What Are You Doing,” an alternative rock radio staple in the making, contains a trenchant line about the racket that is the United States healthcare system.

Bright chords scrubbed blurry in distortion are the first sounds detectable on closer “Despise Us,” the song sounding like a Trompe le Monde highlight in an alternate universe where Frank Black didn’t freeze Kim Deal out of writing songs for Pixies (thus saving all her best stuff for the then-nascent Breeders). The song is a masterwork of soundcraft and songwriting, as D’Alessandro croons her way through a screed against political subterfuge and deceit before guitars and an alto saxophone blare through its climax. It’s easily the album’s highlight, and might serve as a harbinger for the future of Tres Leches if they hadn’t staked their careers on being so gloriously unpredictable.

New and News

Seattle Music Industry Professionals: Seattle Office of Film + Music Would Like You to Take a Survey

Do you work in Seattle's music industry in some capacity? The Office of Film + Music is currently conducting a survey to help the city better serve the industry through its programs and strategies. To get a fuller scope of the needs of Seattle's music industry, musicians are encouraged to apply, but so are sound engineers, teachers, talent buyers, music retailers, agents, music therapists, nonprofits, DJs, venue owners and staff, instrument makers, promoters -- basically any job within the music industry. The only other requirement is that you must live in King County. The survey is open until October 15th, and if you'd like to take it, click here.

Live and Loud: This Week's Recommended Shows

October 4: Guerilla Toss, Zebu, and Miscomings at The Vera Project

October 5: Mimicking Birds, Kilcid Band, and Aura Ruddell at Fremont Abbey Arts Center

October 6: Dream Wife, Russo, and Kaylyn Rogers at Barboza

October 7: Sons of Kemet and Bad Luck at Barboza

October 8: Ty Segall & White Fence and Lavender Flu at Neumos

October 10: Shame, Goon, and Monsterwatch at The Crocodile

October 10: Ural Thomas & the Pain and the Highsteppers at Nectar Lounge

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