The rather omni-talented Mr. Valdes was a member of The Empty Mirror, and, when I reviewed their two CDs (here and here), it was obvious how close they were to hitting full stride. Well, Valdes dropped out, and it quickly becomes obvious that he may have been miscast in the Mirror because his solo At Peace at Last is an entirely different beast. It maintains some of the urgency of the erstwhile group, though in vastly different airs. The true underlying state, however, arrives in a far more decorously classicalist atmosphere recalling many efforts by numerous groups, not the least of which include the Move, ELO, the Beatles, Smashing Pumpkins, and such.
Ah, but there's more. Valdes wrote this suite of closely interconnected songs while yet a senior in high school. More, he not only played damn near everything (except the violin and cello, and one song's string arrangement) but handled the recording and mixing as well. The opening to the disc is startling as Valdes spikes the vocal level immediately in order to capture the listener's attention, then surrounds his Billy Corgan / Radiohead-ish voice with orchestral billows and layers. However, the tenor of At Peace embraces an older cast, as when gents like Ray Davies (Kinks), Blunstone & Argent (Zombies), Tim Buckley, Brian Wilson (Beach Boys), Lee & MacLean (Love), and others were attempting to create urban pastorales for the modern connoisseur. They succeeded quite nicely, as does Valdes here, but the sub-genre has been forever wanting when it comes to mainstream acceptance.
Still, there's an upside to that, to the fabrication of art for art's sake, and it lies in the fact that such works endure and become influential. What the Hell Do I Know? captures the moody state beautifully, delicate and dark, chambered and reclusive—but then, all the cuts here are shades of that atmosphere, unified in fetchingly drear habiliment, subliminally sirenic. In that last trait, the storied heroes of old only had to resist external threats; with Peace at Last, the listener inside the listener is the real antagonist, not so easily dealt with but very revealing in contemplation and struggle. Don't think that the thematics are as baroque as they at first seem, either, as this is elegant Everyman music tackling such taboos as the ill-conceived Bushian "patriotic shopping sprees" too revelatory of American character and reminding everyone to Fear the A-Bomb because…well, it's profitable, isn't it? And we certainly seem to love to wallow in superficial fears and even shallower balms.
Like I said, there are mirrors here and, before you know it, you looking into and through them. You'll recognize a lot of the people.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2010, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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