The joy of Ignacio Peña’s music is exploring the layering and depth of the messages involved. As an audio blast, the lyrics may be open to interpretation, even having meaning beyond the idea of social commentary that sits at the heart of the album Songs For the Fall of an Empire. But encounter the music with the accompanying video and the songs leave little doubt as to the subject matter that it is being discussed. Not only are there documentary images threaded through the live band footage, there are poignant soundbites scrolling through the proceedings, quotes and important facts to really drive the point home.
I think the thing that impresses me most about this artist, more than how well-crafted the songs are and how deftly executed they may be, is the fact that this is someone who remembers that musicians have a great platform from which to talk to a lot of people. Why waste that opportunity telling everyone that you are down because your girlfriend left you when you can actually instigate discussions by pointing people in the direction of topics of societal, political and cultural importance? Music as education, how great is that as a concept?
This time out Ignacio Peña pauses for breath somewhat with a song that mixes occasional soaring crescendos with more measured and lulling musical passages. She’s Bleeding, another song taken from the forthcoming Songs For the Fall of an Empire, is all about dynamics, about light and shade, power and pause, about understanding that if you start from a musical low point, with respect to impact and volume, when you do go for the big chord, the big hit, it is all the more effective for the distance covered.
As always Peña is dealing with bigger issues here. Where others are happy to write songs about relationship trouble, about temporary emotional issues and the pointless minutiae of everyday modern life, he prefers to tackle more complex themes such as the covert machinations happening out of sight of the person in the street but which are the real driving forces of the world around us. Heavy stuff? Certainly but his skill with a turn of phrase enables him to engage the subject poetically and with such deft and often graceful music as the delivery system for such a discussion, the song works on two levels. Engage with the song fully and you will find, as with all of the songs released from the album so far, something important, poignant and perfectly timed being discussed. Chose to listen from a distance and you still encounter a great alt-rock song, one built from clever dynamic and gloriously sweeping music.
When ever I come across an artist whose music appears to drive a lyrical content about revealing truths and endeavouring to explain to people just why the world is the way it is, I always brace myself. More often than not it is little more than a string of hippy nonsense and conspiracy theory about alien bases on the dark side of the moon and secretive powers behind the throne. But what is so refreshing about Fall Apart in particular and Ignacio Pena’s work in general is that he isn’t trying to tell us about hidden figures who have been pulling the strings of puppet players throughout history, he is telling us about the ones that have always and continue to do so in plain view. Why look for conspiracy theories and furtive cult groups when the history books will show you that far from being alien interlopers and secret sects, they have just been businessmen and investors, and more than anything it is they who have shaped the modern world.
The East India Company might be an odd thing to want to write a song about but I say why not? Better a history lesson and content that might spark an interest in something tangible than another pop song about how your girlfriend dumped you over instagram..or whatever. As part of the album Songs for the Fall of an Empire, Fall Apart and particularly the informative video charts the rise and fall of The Company and shows that it is the blueprint for modern corporate politics.
Musically it is the usual deft blend of accessible rock, the perfect mix of muscle and melody, and a more progressive vibe, partly due to the subject matter, partly due to the clever dynamic that the song uses. If you think that rock music is all about girls and cars, then you need Ignacio’s music in your life, rock music it may be but it is rock music concerned with things that actually matter.
The Same Replies was my first venture into the musical world of Ignacio Peña, a song which opened his latest album, Songs For The Fall of an Empire, via swathes of neo-classical vocals and ancient grandeur before getting down to alt-rock business. It introduced me to his wonderful brand of music, music which blends the keen lyrical poignancy and musical deftness that you normally associate with the more progressive wing of the rock fraternity with a musical directness which swerves the usual bombast and flamboyancy which comes as part of that package. Sound The Alarm takes an even more direct line, this time looking at the sources of world power and delivering its findings in a punchy, dynamic and deft rock statement.
Rock often gets a bad name for being dumb, cliched or overly theatrical. Peña makes music which comes through like a breath of fresh air, not holding back on the necessary grunt and grind of the genres core but also coming armed with that rarest of bonuses of actually having something to say. Whilst his peers are painting pre-pubescent images of cars and girls, of being tougher or richer or musically heavier than the next black clad dinosaur, this is rock music going down a smarter path. Songs For The Fall of an Empire is an exploration of the intricacies of the modern age; who holds the power, where does the money trail go, who is the real power behind the throne, who’s pulling who’s strings?
Sound The Alarm comes with a video which matches the music, slick images of London’s power players, names and places and more esoteric suggestions blended into the live performance, neatly capturing the energy and power of the music and the depth and fascination of the message at its heart. Okay rock music, you have had your kicks, time to grow up and get real and earn your keep. With Sound The Alarm and the album which spawned it, you are having the door kicked open for you, a door that leads to a new chapter of intelligent rock and roll, all you have to do is go in!
Music is very often a response or reaction to the world around it and it is quite telling to note that more and more music which appears in my review pile has something to say about the world around it. It is nothing new, rock’n’roll, hip-hop, punk, rave and grunge where all in their way a response of dissatisfaction to the world in which they found themselves, a message for change or at least non-co-operation. And in a way Ignacio Pena comes from a similar place, and as the name of his forthcoming album Songs For The Fall of an Empire suggests, he may not be so much rebelling against it but he is at least documenting our times and creating its soundtrack.
The song builds through the albums intro piece, With Usura, an evocative choral piece that wouldn’t seem out of place on a Karl Jenkins album before bursting forth into full, widescreen song mode. Music embracing such ideals, dealing with such narratives and story arcs is often found in the hands of metallers or progressive rockers, resulting all too often in something unlistenable or too full of its own importances. The Same Replies is neither of those things, instead it is articulate and intelligent alt-rock music and there is a succinctness and accessibility which implies that the album it comes from is probably less a concept album in the old school sense but rather an album of concepts. A subtle but telling difference.
And if you are going to build a musical record of these ever darkening, ever more chaotic and increasingly politically entrenched times, then this is exactly how it should sound, a mix of accessibility and mystique, energy and intrigue, a slight dystopian air and a sonic density which reflects the world around it.
As a first dipping of my toes into Pena’s music, I find it easy to imagine that he will be an artist I will be spending more and more time getting to know. Great music is reason enough to love what he does, but that coupled with a depth and poignancy really is the icing on the cake.