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Refree is the newest and one of the brightest in a remarkable string of new artists (Migala, Mus, Lisabö) from Spain making audacious and exotically beautiful sounds. It's the alter ego of Raül Fernandez, who also performs in the bands élena, Romo, and Shudo (and fronted the revered '90s band Corn Flakes). As Refree, Fernandez explores acoustic instrumentalism in the manner of a Friends of Dean Martinez and Dirty Three, stretching out traditional chords and arrangements into stunning instrumental passages of melancholy pathos. Like Migala, the group his music most resembles, Refree avoids monotony by alternating his multilayered drone-oriented compositions with more conventional pieces inspired by Spanish and English folk music, American folk-rock, Ennio Morricone-esque spaghetti western soundtrack music, and even modern jazz. It seems safe to say that innovative, risk-taking artists like Refree represent the vanguard of a new folk movement for the 21st century, which isn't limited to Spain but seems to be centered there right now.

On his brilliant debut effort as Refree, Quitamiedos ("Railing"), Hernandez has crafted ten eerie and pensive pieces that stun with their range and epic sweep. The album is largely a solo affair with Fernandez playing guitars, xylophones, melodica, organs, and other instruments, singing in English and Spanish on a handful of songs in a weary and strained but quite pretty tenor. Elsewhere he enlists the aid of various members of Spain's eclectic independent music scene, including vocalists Abel Hernandez of Migala, Jose Luis Aguado of Viva Las Vegas, and Helena Miquel of élena, and musicians Reynald Colom and Llibert Fortuny, both prominent on the Barcelona jazz circuit. Hernandez's élena band mates play additional instruments on this searching, ethereally lovely album. If you have a yen for something truly new, foreign, and grand, Quitamiedos would be an excellent place to begin.

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