Or Sobre Blau is the recording project of Andreu G. Serra and Kiran Leonard. The pair met while living in Lisbon, having moved to Portugal from Southern Catalonia and North-West England respectively. Their name is a literal Catalan translation of the Portuguese idiom “ouro sobre azul” (or, “blue over gold”), which is equivalent to the English “cherry on top,” and makes very little sense in Catalan. This confusion throws light on the band’s dynamic. “The two tend to communicate in a poor garble of Spanish, English, Portuguese and Catalan,” explains their bio, “which gives rise to misunderstanding, disputes and comedy.” Perhaps ironically, their dual guitar explorations all the more meaningful as a result, working because of the language barrier and not in spite of it.
Speaking of language, every track on the debut Or Sobre Blau album, The Piri Piri Samplers, is named after a Portuguese phrase with a strong Catholic theme. The album was recorded in a studio in Alto São João, Lisbon, which just so happened to be opposite a large graveyard. “They remind me of the bleakness in that cemetery,” Leonard tells The Line of Best Fit of the songs’ titles, “the weird perseverance of its dark, devout language over people that are dead and structures that are in ruin.”
That thought serves as a good introduction to the record. These instrumentals are more akin to something put out by Lost Tribe Sound than the usual Memorials of Distinction fare, abstract soundscapes that crawl with claustrophobic drones and wiry guitars that come skewering to the fore from amidst a sense of atmosphere and tension. It’s like the soundtrack to some Euro acid western, playing against a backdrop of stoic hawks wheeling above the baked Iberian earth.
There’s a depth to ‘Do Menino Deus’, a kind of stereoscopic experimental track that pairs landscape-wide ruminations with picked guitar that feels a lot closer, like unseen creatures scuttling in the nearby scrub. The whole album continues like this, Serra and Leonard using their guitars to probe and search, creating something that’s unique in the way it combines the tense and the explorative, the ominous and the beautiful.
There’s wonder too in how the tracks are constructed, seemingly clashing guitars coming together in waves of constructive interference, creating a swirling whole that feels a lot more than the sum of its parts. Guitar is used as an atmospheric foil (‘Da Madalena’), as small blipped flourishes (‘De Passeio Pelo Alto De São João’), and even as pseudo percussion (‘Da Nossa Senhora Da Conceição’). ‘Mártires’ brings all this together in the album’s uneasy masterpiece, guitar as both taut mosquito-whir and deep moaning calls, evoking the feeling of watching strange lights flitting between moon-lit tombs, perhaps remnants of the martyrs of the title.
The Piri Piri Samplers is an impressive album, and one guaranteed to sound unlike anything else you’ll hear this year. Serra and Leonard make an odd couple, but as Or Sobre Blau proves, that can make for great music. “What do you find in the middle of noise and harmony?” asks label Memorials of Distinction. “A very old question, really. We know that the answer is usually endearing and a little tragic, like a bad translation.”
You can get The Piri Piri Samplers on cassette tape or name-your-price download from the Memorials of Distinction Bandcamp page.