Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
There is so much to love about the young Austin band Corto Maltese. It just begs you to do one of those "let me count the ways," blabberings, where thoughts topple, clamber and spill onto each other, making a slobbery, sticky mess of amore. If you're into the kind of rock and roll that feels big without even trying, that sounds as if it should be stuffed into a rocket casing and shot into the sky as part of a colorful fireworks display on a Fourth of July evening, for all to oooo and awwww for, this is a legitimate place to start. One could get foolishly caught up in praising a band that's not yet done any major touring, has no label and doesn't even have a full album polished off, but then that would leave the band and the touters needing to live up to so much. It's a burden, but Corto Maltese gives you every reason to want to talk them up, to tell other people that they need to hear this now, right now (shakily and with crazed exclamation points strangling the words of urgency), if they knew what was good for them. Lead singer Ben Maddox, is a singer, not just a guy who says he does the deed in a rock and roll setting. There's a feeling in his crooning and soaring voice that should put him in a league with many of who could be argued are the current "heavyweights" or men to aspire to be more like in the male vocal arena if you are trying to do a similar such thing: people like Ed Droste and Daniel Rossen of Grizzly Bear, Cass McCombs, Luke Temple of Here We Go Magic, Thom Yorke. Within the tones of these bigger names are hints, the little slices of lemons at the rims of glasses, of sounds that belong solely to Maddox - his interpretations on how he might envision dark Ray-Ban shades singing out at a challengingly bright day on the job if those sunglasses had mouths and urges to communicate or interpretations on ways that good feelings can be seen or felt. It's a striking brilliance to both the whimsy of space-racing musical sustains and in classic-sounding pop vocals that are not afraid to be pretty or get a little magical. The music feels brainy and it feels as if there's a reason that this debut record is just four songs into the recording process and the demo discs that have been just locally circulated there in Austin have been so slow to get to the point where they then can be circulated amongst the dirty masses. It feels as if this reason has something to do with careful movements, slow decisions and laborious grief taken in building and massaging arrangements so that they are shining examples before they're scrutinized by the Toms, the Dicks and the Harrys. It's not an altogether horrible way to go at all, if you think about it - work as tirelessly as possible to get your craft right before most people know you exist, an idea that's so foreign to the insta-fame and insta-forget-ability way technology has driven the music industry to become. Corto Maltese gives us great hope that there can be prosperity in taking to heart and mind the phrase, "All in due time." This is a band that we'll watch as it ropes us all in, but not before they've determined that they're entirely ready for such a step.