His Name Is Alive, the brainchild of Detroit’s Warren Defever, have been veering into different terrains since their nascent days on 4AD in the early ’90s — they’ve tried looping, ethereal textures (Livonia, Home is In Your Head), baroque pop (Mouth By Mouth), Beach Boys-infatuated pastiches (Stars on E.S.P.), and Hendrix-meets-girl-group sensibilities (Ft. Lake). The cryptically titled Tecuciztecatl fits the His Name Is Alive aesthetic simply because it’s like nothing they’ve ever done before. It’s a pitch-black psych-rock album, jettisoning the lithe pop that suffused 2008′s Xmmer and 2006′s Detrola, while retaining Defever’s twisted take on classic pop tropes that has made the act so vital for more than 20 years.
Tecuciztecatl is a grand concept album that uses narration about a pair of twins to delve into the root of power struggles, exploring the slippery nature of dominance and power dynamics. Opening number “The Examination,” sets the template for the record, with Defever’s guitar lines veering from grizzled to serpentine, Andrea Morici’s placid and gorgeous vocals, Dusty Jones’s lacerating guitar, and J. Rowe’s minimalist percussion fills. Morici journeys through the schizoid psyche of the dominant twin, as she sings gently, “I will consume you/ You will be a part of me/ You’ll be reflected.”
Yet there’s vulnerability in Morici’s voice on “I Believe Your Heart Is No Longer in This Room,” as she coos, “Stories told in reverse/ But I pushed you out first.” The line is as suffused with dark humor cutting to what makes Tceuciztecatl so compelling — the juxtaposition of gravely serious subject matter and playful frivolity. Yet there’s little resolution with regards to the power struggle between the twins. It’s just a conundrum that Defever and co. seem to enjoy inverting and toying with.