When love turns rotten, when friends betray, when regret looms large, you’ll have Aurelio Valle to sing you songs. You’ll have Calla, his turbulent rock band, to justify every break-up, fuck-up and clean-up, every bourbon, scotch and beer, that hard luck brings your way. Emo doesn’t have a monopoly on romantic narcissism. Plain old rock ‘n’ roll, free of the octave chords and the fake IDs, can still make bittersweet bliss out of a bedroom or a lonely barstool.
On Calla’s fourth full-length, those brooding trademarks have been sharpened on an anvil of brittle guitars and galloping percussion. The excellent Televise (2003), though more lucid than the band’s previous outing, was still bathed in a heady fog of acoustic guitar, subliminal vocals and lolling bass lines. Now, in the appropriately titled Collisions, Calla brings the grayscale rawk only hinted at before to the glittering limelight. Valle bitches and moans over artic guitars that shiver and crash and drums that break through wide-open gloomy expanses. On album stand-out “So Far, So What,” Calla begins familiarly with ambiguous acoustic guitar chords and distant atonalities. But soon after Valle sings “It’s all coming to a head,” the music follows suit: Wayne Magruder’s drums break their noose, the burners light up under the guitars, and a nice little bit of nihilism ensues. Opener “It Dawned on Me” and the fist-pumping “Swagger” emit equally poignant notes of ennui.
With Calla’s song structures and melodies more concrete, though, Valle’s desolate imagery has begun to lose a bit of its mystery, and consequently, some of its appeal. Though lines such as “I lie because I want you to believe” and “I rejoice: In my dreams I can’t hear her voice,” are worthy enough on their one, over the course of eleven tracks, they can seem self-serving and a little overwrought. Valle sees a sinister smile behind every good attention and a slammed door at the end of every romance. Thankfully, whenever Valle loses the plot worrying about his next move, his band picks up the slack, pulling out strident, hook-laden tunes from sorrow’s seemingly endless hat of tricks.