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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Space, Love, & Bull Fighting

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 May
Space, Love, & Bull Fighting
Sounds like … nothing else you've ever heard! Imagine, if you will, a strange blend of space rock, new wave, and Latin that combines the sounds of Elvis Costello, Talking Heads, The Pixies, David Bowie, and Los LobosAt a Glance … an interesting album for those looking for something musically unique, though the meaning behind it all is somewhat vague, and the fact that it's not for all tastes goes without saying.

Those who say Christian music is uncreative obviously haven't heard the work of Havalina (formerly Havalina Rail Co.). This one-time ska quintet from Long Beach, California, is about as strange as you'll find-nowadays featuring a bizarre blend of jazz, punk, blues, country-western, and surf rock. The band is fronted by lead singers/guitarists Matt Wignall and Starry Dynamo, and backed by bassist Orlando Greenhill and drummer Erick Diego. Caught in between is David Maust, who lends the most distinguishing sounds to the band with his classic keyboards, such as Farfisa organ and Moog synthesizer. The man even plays the Hurdy Gurdy, which is truly a rarity. For their latest recording, Space, Love, & Bull Fighting, Havalina set out to make a Latin album that didn't simply tackle the genre in a conventional way. True to their extremely eclectic form, they decided to blend Latin with spacey rock and their clear love for '80s alternative pop.

If you imagine Elvis Costello mixed with Los Lobos, you're at least in the same solar system as Havalina. The space effects, ambient drums, and rocking guitars all blend into such a sound for the album's opener, "Space and Mexico." Such is the sound of the album, ranging from kitschy lounge Latin ("Carlos") to science fiction sound collages that would make producer Brian Eno proud ("Spaces and Places," "Space, Love, & Bullfighting Suite"). Many of the other songs play like a survey of early-'80s new-wave artists. "Rocket Ship" is reminiscent of early B-52s, "If You'd Like … " is a bit like early U2, and the extremely short "I Feel Nothing" plays like REM's "It's the End of the World as We Know It." This is definitely a band that loves to toy with music, and all genres are its playground. The aforementioned "Space, Love, & Bullfighting Suite" not only features the basic band elements, but also includes bagpipes, harmonica, sci-fi effects, violin, castanets, wood blocks, bird calls, and ocean waves. It just doesn't get stranger than this, folks — but it's often fascinating to listen to.

Just as hard to peg as the sound is the meaning behind all of Space, Love, & Bull Fighting. It's melodramatic and artsy, but what exactly are they trying to say with this music? Several of the tracks ("Leica," "Losing You," "I Feel Nothing," "Worst Days," and "You Got Me Cry'n") wrestle with loneliness, desperation, and unrequited love. The alienation is best expressed in "Pluto," which conveys the awkwardness of being caught between two worlds — a planet that is neither solid earth nor formless gas. The accessible pop anthem "If You'd Like … " expresses a need for reconciliation and forgiveness, though it's unclear if this is an earthly or spiritual relationship. Bringing the album into perspective, then, is "Spaces and Places," which reminds us there are times and places of emptiness everywhere in the universe. Perhaps the most spiritual song on the album is "Bullfighter," a thoughtful song about the pain and death of pride as represented by a failed bullfighter. Dramatic and melancholic, it seems to be about finding strength in weakness, a theme that Christians should understand all too well.

Still, Love, Space, & Bullfighting is a mysterious and odd project that never clearly communicates its message — but that's not uncommon for Havalina. This is a textbook "cult band," with music that will leave most listeners scratching their heads because they "just don't get it." It certainly is weird stuff, but I do think there are plenty of ideas with which to walk away from the album. If nothing else, you can at least praise Havalina for their unique vision and creative style, filling in that niche for space-age Latin rock that you didn't know was vacant.