Halaska’s Mayantology is a complex, shape-shifter of an album that defies expectations as much as categorization. As a follow up to 2012’s Los Angeles, Texas, this latest LP covers all kinds of new ground for the experimental four-piece without straying too far from their previous material. It’s a combination that’s sure to leave more than a few people scratching their heads, but everything from the compositions, to the mixing, to the vocals are executed with precision and aplomb in order to create a unique, almost transcendent experience.

I first came to hear Halaska earlier this year when they contacted me on Twitter asking me to check out their stuff because they (likely based on reviews here and my various tweets) thought I’d be into it. I was. Their playful, but technical, compositions reminded me of an almost free jazz take on the instrumental math rock of such groups as Don Caballero or early Battles. It was avant-garde, but approachable – even if only from a somewhat oblique angle.

Mayantology builds in many ways on much of the foundation that had been lain on Halaska’s previous recordings. The first and perhaps most striking is the inclusion of vocals on over half of the album’s 12 tracks. While most formerly instrumental bands have traditionally failed to impress me when deciding to add vocals, Dieter Geisler and Logan Giles actually have some vocal talent with a tonality and delivery that complements the rest of the music well. Lyrically, Myantology treads the same ground that it does instrumentally, swerving through abstract and progressive avenues with lyrics that (like the album’s song titles) feature no lack of clever word play, puns, and portmanteaus.

One of the more striking features of the album compared to their previous work is the inclusion of several heavier, prog rock-influenced tracks, especially during the album’s first half. Two of the album’s opening tracks: “C3 Presents” and “Brian Emo,” have a structure and style that recall such progressive titans as Yes and The Mars Volta, with their darker bent and an almost ethereal vibe. Not content to stay long in one place, however, the album takes us on a stylistic tour of the Halaskan countryside where syncopation is currency, arpeggios roam free and no time signature is turned away at the border.

About halfway through, the album pokes its head above the progressive plains for a bit and takes us across some more fractal terrain with a few numbers, such as the titular “Mayantology,” that rely more on math rock in the vein of such Sergeant House label bands as Tera Melos. As if that wasn’t enough, peppered throughout the album are moments of profound loftiness that, at times, have the band recalling the epic sounds of such local instrumental guitar groups as Explosions in the Sky and The Calm Blue Sea. It’s enough to leave one exhausted by album’s end, but thoroughly satisfied at the same time.

All told, Mayantology is way more than I was expecting and entirely welcome. As a sonic journey, this is one hell of a trip.

– Brian Audette