Review Summary: Ricardo Villalobos can obviously do anything.4 of 4 thought this review was well written
I have strong opinions about the music I listen to. If there's anything that pisses me off, it's when music lovers dismiss dance, house, or techno as mindless crap, as music only for philistines, ravers and clubbers. There exist an endless array of talented dance artists--and they don't necessarily need to be tagged with "IDM". Minimal techno or house (often dubbed "microhouse") is a genre that can appeal to clubbers as well as avid headphone listeners.
I am particularly fond of one counterexample to you skeptics. It's an album by Ricardo Villalobos called Alcachofa
. It's an album that, despite being tagged as minimal, is very detailed and expansive. It's an album that, contrary to most house music, sounds dark, mysterious and ambivalent. This mood makes the first listen an unusual one, but Alcachofa
soon envelops you like an incubus. It makes sure you notice something new with each listen.
If you're a naturalist who likes to use the phrase "cold, unfeeling electronics", you'll be hard pressed to find a moment in Ricardo Villalobos's music in which to use such a phrase. Alcachofa
is primarily an electronic album, but much of its notes give off an organic vibe. All snaps, handclaps, and plucked guitar notes aside, the actual electronics feel warm and unique. Pops and clicks flock around the music like fireflies, and by judging the timbre it's hard to say what's electronic and what's sampled. Soft R2-D2 robot whirrs replace commonly used hard saw synths. Many of the synth sounds used sound very windy and breathy, like white noise. Ricardo Villalobos goes beyond the conventions of average tecnho to find fascinating instruments to feature in his music.
's minimalism paradoxically allows its details to shine; this is why it feels like such a detailed album. The album cover, laced with tiny, repetitive and elaborate bubbles, really describes the sound: bubbly minimal techno that repeats a lot, but creates a sprawling world. Unlike his peers The Field or Pantha du Prince, Ricardo Villalobos does not drench his music in hazy reverb, thus allowing every click, pop, whirr and wobble to be noticed. The length of this album also works superbly for its style of sprawling music, allowing its details room to breathe. Alcachofa
is 77 minutes long, but unlike most lengthy albums it is never superfluous or overly ambitious (Illinoise
comes to mind). In it time flurries away; fifty minutes in feels only halfway through.
Despite the noted lack of reverb or ambience, Alcachofa
still manages to sound dreamy. On "Dexter", the handclaps and kicks commence as expected, but two and a half minutes in a gorgeous, trippy guitar melody plays. The kicks stop for about 20 seconds to allow the melody to tantalize you. Throughout the track the melody seesaws from forward to reverse and back again. Such dreamy moments make one want to dance and float in the air at the same time.
If there's any moment in which the music sounds like "cold, unfeeling electronics", it's when "Easy Lee" and "What You Say" include a vocoder, and it may be for this reason alone that these are the two weakest tracks on Alcachofa
. The first track includes vocoder immediately and its beat doesn't start until 45 seconds in. The best section of the song is actually right when the vocoder stops
four and a half minutes in and this spiffy, twangy sounding instrument plays. And "What You Say" compensates by including such gorgeously dark details as an addictive, ominous guitar loop and an occasional reversing of instruments and vocals. Point being, Ricardo Villalobos doesn't need to use vocoder (mixed in at such a loud and intrusive volume) for his beats to hypnotize.
Not all of the songs sound dark: the mystery and uncertainty of Alcachofa
seems to temporarily melt away on the shining "Waiworinao" (it would
be in the smack-dab center of the album), the album's most melodic track, impressing mainly with extremely catchy guitar loops. The ambivalent "Theogenese" manages to sound equally bright and mysterious, like a friend who's suddenly happy for no reason after being depressed for a month. Don't ask me how that's possible; Ricardo Villalobos can obviously do anything.
The rest of Alcachofa
is marked not by grand statements but by small, mesmerizing details. The heartbeat at the start of "Y.G.H." provides a breathtaking, almost godlike transition from "Easy Lee". "Y.G.H." may be the true opener of Alcachofa
, revealing an ecosystem of details "Easy Lee" failed to offer. "Bahaha Hahi" and "I Try to Live (Can I Live)" include occasional vocal samples that often repeat the name of the track in a dreamy or ominous tone. There are more of these little moments on Alcachofa
worth gushing about, but listening to them would be far more advised than reading about them.
Ricardo himself has said he doesn't like the way albums have to be formatted and much prefers to DJ clubs for hours on end, but for a guy with a statement like that . . . not a bad album at all. Alcachofa
is one of the greatest dance albums to have come out in recent years. And he knew how to end it, too, in the hypnotic second half of "Fool's Garden (Black Conga)" where the beat fades away and the melody becomes the main focus.