Review Summary: Ricardo Villalobos can obviously do anything.
Here on Sputnikmusic especially, where more readers are into rock music than electronic, one often finds music lovers dismissing dance, house, or techno as mindless crap, as music only for philistines, ravers and party animals. Of course one ought to approach dance music with all the happiness that a club should bring. But there exist an endless array of dance artists which don't necessarily need to be tagged with "IDM" to appeal to home listeners. Minimal techno or house (often dubbed "microhouse") is a genre which, as well as appealing to clubbers, has introverted qualities, sparse yet sprawling details which make the music better suited to headphone listening.
One monumental record which exemplifies this is 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.
Okay, I lied: the phrase "cold, unfeeling electronics" is
still slightly applicable to this album in a way with some of the sounds, particularly when "Easy Lee" and "What You Say" include a vocoder. But the subtle mechanical undertones to album coupled with the warm and organic sounds together add more depth to the mood. Something which is both dark and danceable, both stoic and hypnotic, both mysterious and warm: the fact that Villalobos manages to capture these contrasts makes the album even more impressive and admirable, and more engrossing, as such nuances bring the album to life. We experience the best of both worlds here: the electronic portrayal of mechanical alienation and the soulful portrayal of dance and house 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. 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.
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"'s streamlined sparsity couldn't 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. With the hypnotic second half of "Fool's Garden (Black Conga)" where the beat fades away and the melody becomes the main focus, Villalobos creates a climactic finish to one of the greatest dance albums to have come out in recent years.