Trans Van Santos' Mark Matos splits his time between Tucson and San Francisco, a fact that's abundantly clear in the motifs of his latest release "Moon Mirage"—an album that successfully evokes the feeling of driving through the desert for hours at a time on your own.
The album starts off simply with "Wild at Heart," which, if you didn't listen longer than the first few seconds, might have you assuming that Matos was going for a strong Townes Van Zandt vibe. However, moments later the album's first hint of psychedelia wails in by way of a single strum of a heavily distorted guitar. The song uses harmonica unlike run-of-the-mill folk's melodic solos, instead using it as an ambient layer of sound. In terms of content, the first song enforces "Moon Mirage"'s overall thematic melancholy and restlessness.
"Turquoise and Silver" uses woodwinds in a similarly textural way—simulating a coyote's howl more so than playing a tune. All of this lends to the album's strong sense of place. It feels like the desert in a way that bands like Timber Timbre have only recently also accomplished. It's dark and unyielding. It's mysterious and almost mythological. It's the '60s without the optimism.
The somber notes of the first two songs are broken almost instantly when "Rocket Man" chimes in as the album's third track. It's the sort of infectiously catchy, plucky song that you'll remember off of the album, though it certainly isn't the album's highest moment. If anything has overt pop viability, it's this song, which would fit in on a Diablo Cody soundtrack as the quirky lead character rides past on a bike in some ironic, but endearing outfit.
After the sunniness of "Rocket Man" subsides, "Moon Mirage" descends deeper into its Cimmerian mood. "The Flight" doesn't seem to want to stick with you at all in any of the more traditional earworm kind of ways. Instead, it's a spooky, messy, but methodical bit of gloomy psychedelic folk music that isn't more of one than the other by any means. It's the kind of song you'd do peyote to, not mushrooms.
After that the "Agua Fria" and the seven-minute droning, listless "Homecoming King" finish out the album with moments of choral vocals, organs and an overall mellowness that smooths out some of the more intimidating moments on "The Flight."
In that way, Matos as Trans Van Santos creates a range of emotion successfully on an album that sides heavily with the dark side. He also accomplished the fusion of two genres—neo-psych and folk—which seem to typically butt up but never quite cross paths.
You can visit Trans Van Santos' website for information on how to get your hands on a copy of his newest release "Moon Mirage."