Tristeza coalesced from the remains of San Diego punk bands that had burned themselves out, just as a black hole comes from a dead star. The sweet, viscous instrumental rock they produce on Dream Signals in Full Circles, though, is as far from the piercing hardcore of the Locust or Crimson Curse (which both have members in Tristeza) as the sun is from a dark star. In fact, it may be some of the most beautifully expansive music you hear this year.
As with late-era Mogwai and other recent sans-vocals art-rock, there is great potential for bloodless navel-gazing here. But instead of getting lost in countless jarring time changes and repeating figures, Tristeza offers subtle changes that creep up on the listener. For example, they bring in a second guitar part that bubbles up from beneath the surface of "Building Peaks" near its end. These songs may seem to be chasing their tails, but turn your attention away for a second and you may not recognize what you hear when you come back.
Dave Trumfio (formerly of Chicago synth geniuses the Pulsars) is on board here and gives the album a woozy, dreamlike haze. A little bit of gloom hangs over tracks like the gently swaying "City of the Future," but he's turned Tristeza away from the Cure/Joy Division edge that haunted their debut full-length, Spine and Sensory (though "I Am a Cheetah" briefly feints toward the melody of "Inbetween Days"). In its place, Trumfio adds sparkle -- chiming guitars, gliding synth pulses and melodies that could be lullabies in some cases. Few post-rock bands have the nerve to go for prettiness, the fact that Tristeza pulls it off seems almost revolutionary and elevates the group to the level of Tortoise or Godspeed You Black Emperor!
The most interesting twist of all, though, is "Aurora Borealis," possibly the only track on the album that doesn't have the static sheen of the northern lights. Instead, it's a breezy pop song with a beehive of synth buzzes and a quick guitar melody reminiscent of Sonic Youth's late-'80s singles. Unlike the protean structure found elsewhere, it has clearly demarcated verses and choruses. It's rare to find an instrumental band that's willing to delve into conventional hooks, and it humanizes Tristeza to find that Dream isn't above getting its listeners' blood flowing on occasion, as their punk predecessors did.