Mark Nieto admits he’s an artistic sponge and a bit of a chameleon. He’s switched roles in his corner of Los Angeles’ music scene, hosting a radio show on KXLU, DJing, and playing guitar with a couple of local acts. If you’re trying to find your voice in so many different creative circles, the struggle is as much about paring down as it is about creating. Maybe that’s why Nieto laid low in a studio apartment for a minute (8 months), traveled around the world, and did some reflection to create Combat!, the moniker under which he released his debut self-titled album on notable LA imprint Friends of Friends.
Combat! is a pensive, 11-track instrumental record about vulnerability, loss, growth, and piecing together memories and experiences. The title of “Jacaranda,” the album’s opening track, references a tree that blossoms violet flowers and thrives in the border region between San Ysidro and Tijuana. It’s a booming collage of funk breaks and Latin beats that serves as the perfect soundtrack to the train ride to TJ from LA.
This album took about three years to make, though according to him, it feels like it’s been 10 in the making. There’s a tangible sense of time present throughout the record, making some songs sound like IDM and post-rock of the early aughts. It’s a peaceful collection with a militant stance – whether it’s about life, injustice, or perseverance is up to the listener to decide. Nieto knows this is his first album and it’s ambitious, but he doesn’t fail to credit the many people who have inspired him and collaborated on the project.
Nieto’s professed admiration for Brian Eno and Fela Kuti shines in the percussive and repetitive elements that drive these ambient arrangements. “Olive Skin” sounds like a Ghost Box Records artist doing Konono Nº1, the iconic Congolese group. There are plenty of moments when he allows himself to get weird; see “Open and Close The Globe” and “Avron,” which sounds so familiar it’s almost redundant.
Nieto has accomplished what many new artists fail to do: finish what they’ve started. Although it took him a few years to complete this album, it proves that he’s a talented producer and songwriter.