Joyful Noise Recordings, 2015
Review by Kent Manthie
The ever-busy Victor Villarreal has just put out another solo work, Sleep Talk. It’s another showcase of his own, where he can shine by himself instead of being one part of a quartet or trio. The last solo album we heard from Villarreal was Invisible Cinema also a Joyful Noise Recordings release.
Victor was present at the “creation”, so to speak: Cap’n Jazz were one of the new, the band from Chicago who, in the 1990s popped up in indie circles and made a big splash with their fuzzy charm. Victor played guitar in CJ during its relatively brief lifetime, the band which also introduced the public-at-large to the larger-than-life Tim Kinsella, his brother (aka Owen), Mike, Davey von Bohlen (who would, after Cap’n Jazz, go on to form The Promise Ring) and Sam Zurick rounded out the quartet. Their first and only real studio album, which came out in 1994 has the insanely long title,Burritos, Inspiration Point, Fork Balloon Sports, Cards in the Spokes, Automatic Biographies, Kites, Kung Fu, Trophies, Banana Peels We’ve Slipped On and Egg Shells We’ve Tippy Toed Over.
Anyway, it’s been a long, long (relatively, anyway) time since Victor Villarreal played guitar in the band which started it all (Cap’n Jazz) in a lot of ways, not only Joan of Arc and the various other Tim Kinsella-related side projects (Friend/Enemy, Make Believe and Owls, an awesome combo in which Victor played guitar, both on their 2001 eponymous debut as well as the long-awaited follow-up (Two), that came out last March (2014) and is spectacular; an absolute delight that one keeps listening to, over and over again. So, what I’m getting at, in maybe a roundabout way, is that Victor Villarreal is a really binding force in the bands he’s played in, whether it be the last two Joan of Arc albums: 2013’s Testimonium Songs, and also on the fabulous Life Like, recorded by the legendary Steve Albini (Steve hates the whole idea of “producing” -that is, a band should produce their albums. They made the music, they know how it’s supposed to sound.
Sorry, OK, back to Sleep Talk. This is a great example of Victor being Victor and not one part of what would eventually become a synergistic whole. In other words, on Sleep Talk he is strictly Victor Villarreal, great guitar player.
Sleep Talk begins with “Whoever Everyone Might Be”, a hauntingly mellow opener which sort of dusts off shutters covering a Man Ray interior inside. He is from the start, just killing one kindly on the guitar. He, so deftly maneuvers the fretboard that it’s almost like the difference between, say, witnessing a thunderstorm: you know, you’ll see the light the lightning creates, instantaneously, but the thunder, that accompanies the lightning because of that difference between the (nearly) instantaneously showing light from the bolt vs. that jet airliner-strength POW of the thunderclap – it’s the infinite invariable differentiation between the speed of light and the much, much slower speed of sound. Anyway, my analogy is getting away from me here: my point was that, you can be listening to, say, “My Halucidaydream” and letting your mind wander over the soundscapes, but, it isn’t (unless you are specifically on alert for it) hitting you right at the moment, it’ll eventually dawn on you that -hey this guy is really cooking on the guitar over there, so then, suddenly your attention becomes rapt to the crazy fingers of Victor’s – one who shows a quiet dexterity but also a quick guitar wit, if you will. A snaky, but tender, finger-picking-good, at times, but others, “Wade and Beware”, for example, which have a couple of chords which set a mood and then are shadowed by ringlets of the same key, circle around and will come back to the main groove now and again, from which to bring it onto a slightly different path.
Whether it’s the daydreaming set inside “Karoshi” or the album’s longest tune, the 7:02 “A Mad Dad Dash”, which has a title that sounds like it might be a more frenetic type of song, but really isn’t; rather it’s a slowed-down, reflective, somber, but not a dower, not too still – the ever-moving guitar-playing makes sure of that.
Basically, what we have in Sleep Talk is another chance for Victor to show off his chops as a solo artist and though we know he is a terrific guitarist, as is evidenced in his playing on the two Owls albums, over the past couple years in the most recent line-up of Joan of Arc, which, when I saw them live, in San Diego, at the Casbah, in May, 2012, was a quartet, with Tim on vocals/guitar; Bobby Burg on bass, Theo Katsaouris on drums and, last but certainly not least, Victor, who would now and then trade off with Tim for lead guitar duties, Victor really was the more dominant guitarist. And if you think that just listening to him play on Sleep Talk, it makes the guitar playing sound easy, due to the laid-back, almost effortless vibe emitted from the songs, well on stage, Villarreal does a live impression of “making it look easy”, by his mellow, unpretentious, almost shy presence, but which is belied by his wicked fierce chops that, if you’re up close enough to the stage, you can see his fingers, which seem to almost take on a life of their own, apart from his calm, cool persona, as they race up and down the fretboard, and give life to the songs the band is playing. Such is the dual persona of Victor Villarreal: nice guy, easygoing, mellow, while having this fiery intensity through which h e can really kick some ass, but without the “strut-my-stuff” antics; antics which, by now, would seem either like self-parody or insincere and Victor’s nothing, if not sincere.
Anyway, I hope Sleep Talk garner the attention it deserves. It would show once and for all that Vic’s not just a pretty face in a rock band, but a talented force to be reckoned with in his solo endeavors. -KM.