In person, threesome This Horn of Afrika appear to be mousy hipsters, not pretentious but distracted, as if too busy daydreaming to detect a hole in the ground on a daily stroll. They don’t all know the names to their songs — it’s possible that they’ve invented them as they went along and that instead of songs they tell a story they’ve memorized to manifest together on stage.
Guitarist and vocalist Leonard Guerra sings while hunched over his microphone or facing his amp, where a beer bottle sits next to a prescription-drug bottle, for most of the show. Drummer Danny Garcia’s glistening face glares into space as he beats his drum machine and electronic snare, twirling his drumsticks from time to time. Bassist Alex Alvarado shyly shuffles on stage, his thin frame in skinny jeans.
Intro “Certified Color” starts off like a whale conversation, serene but colorful, then swells into noisy but muted rhythmic underwater chatter. Afterward, Guerra mumbles something along the lines of a band introduction, the only engagement with the audience the entire set. “Hondo” is a noisy gathering of gloomy sounds, obscure vocals gushing in and out but at times transforming into obnoxious AC/DC-like piercing shrills.
Their sound is a collage of minamalist echoes, elongated vocals with dots and dashes of dance beats. It’s funereal but not sappy, sketching a beautiful place somewhere between chaos and serenity. There is no romantic longing, instead a simple and unplanned tale of pulp fiction. Guerra resonates quietly, muffled by lawless guitar noises punctuated with thick bass-line punches. In “PJ Party,” his screams are interchanged continually with ambiguous adulations as he slides his fingers up the frets on his guitar with one hand and fiddles with the volume with the other. In “Uh Oh,” they speed up the story with poppy guitar riffs, as if at the climax. Guerra stops from time to time and cries into the microphone, his eyes closed as he wraps his arms around his guitar in an embrace.
The closer, “3’O Clock” is erratic and unpredictable. Garcia who sits front and center and rarely looks down, continues to fill in with consistent beats, like an electronic clapping sound effect, that are almost head-bang-worthy.
Even with their unfathomable lyrics and shy style, their sound ventures between experimental and adventurous. If This Horn of Afrika communicated anything to its audience it wasn’t boring or laced in romantic clichés, but showed a maturity rare for a band that hasn’t released a full-length album and whose music until very recently couldn’t be found on their Myspace page. Their true sound seems elusive, and for the moment can only be heard at a live show. — Imelda Vergara