Los Lichis - Small Mole & The Flavor Jewel Trio LP (Ever/Never, 2022)
Edition of 200, sold-out from the label...
"Monterey, Mexico, is roughly 700 miles to the southwest of Paris, Texas. Imagine you’re Travis Henderson, and you just keep walking. As you cross the border into Mexico, your soundtrack evolves from Ry Cooder’s spare, poignant slide guitar to something a little more active, not quite upbeat, as you’re still in a fugue state, but a bit more purposeful and driving. You go farther still, and suddenly you’ve walked into the middle of what appears to be a sprawling, alternate-reality shamanistic ritual. The soundtrack is Los Lichis' Small Mole & the Flavor Jewel Trio.
An experimental/improv group founded by artists Manuel Mathar, Gerardo Monsiváis and José Luis Rojas in 1996, Los Lichis has numerous releases under its collective belt, with Small Mole & the Flavor Jewel Trio being its first for the ever/never label. Though the members’ identities are known, with a fourth member, French musician Jean Baptiste Favory, added in 2000 and various auxiliary musicians lending a hand when needed, the group maintains a vaguely mysterious, outsider status. This elusiveness aligns perfectly with Small Mole & the Flavor Jewel Trio‘s by turns ominous, playful, and frenzied sounds.
Rooted in folk forms and traditional instrumentation, the release is divided into two halves. Part One begins with a jarring clank from some found object or another and then builds patiently with meandering percussion, lurching plucks, and asymmetrical strums punctuated by a yelp or a low, moaning chant. Different rhythmic and melodic patterns emerge, coalesce, and then retreat, as Los Lichis push the proceedings toward a slow-burn ecstasy before shoving the listener back through the rabbit hole at the side’s conclusion. Part Two starts the practice anew but takes things even further, building to a whirling, shambolic peak that recalls the orange sunshine free folk of the Cherry Blossoms, but by way of the mountains of Mexico rather than Nashville. Los Lichis then suddenly drop the listener into the middle of a simple, festive guitar piece that gives way to a gentle, rumbling rain.
This is intense, wild, moving music, but there’s also a wonderfully cinematic quality at play (which is no surprise given that the group composed the score for the 2021 archival documentary The Rifleman). It’s easy to conjure images and set scenes while listening to Small Mole & the Flavor Jewel Trio. It is largely instrumental and wordless for one thing; however, there is an expansive almost narrative quality to the way the music drifts from one stage to another. There are moments of hushed uncanny beauty that suddenly turn to dynamic, Technicolor controlled chaos. But what is truly moving about Small Mole & the Flavor Jewel Trio is that it is entirely up to the listener to populate and direct this strange, mystical world that the group has conjured. They’ve given you a screen and behind it is a beguiling shadow play. It is up to the mind’s eye of the listener to fill it all in." - Nate Knaebel